Andrzej Partum

(born 1938, died 2002)


Neo-avant-garde poet, performer, creator of objects and installations, the author of manifests, critical and theoretical papers, painter.
He lost both his parents very early, he did not graduate from any artistic school, but attended classes at the Composition Department of the Warsaw Conservatory as an unrolled student.
He debuted as a musician and a poet. He played the piano and recited his own poems during recitals he organised himself. One of such legendary events was the 1959 concert advertised by “Partum!!! In Warsaw” posters, or an attempt to fake a speech with Adam Hanuszkiewich, entitled Rzut Poezji Abstrakcyjnej /Projection of Abstract Poetry at the National Philharmonic Orchestra in 1960.
Partum’s poetry derived from futurist tradition of deconstructing the meaning of words, grammar and spelling. In his later works he focused on the graphic layout which positioned him among shape poetry authors.
Partum was one of the first artists in Poland to publish poetry volumes on his own. In 1961 he issued Frekwencje z opisu/Frequencies of Description, in 1965 Powodzenie nieurodzaju (Zwałkę papki)/Success of Crop Failure (Dumping the Pulp), in 1969 Osypkę woli/Ground Grains of Will featuring original Alfred Lenica’s temperas, as well as Tlenek zasobów/Resource Oxide (written together with his wife, Ewa Partum and with Bogdan Chorążuk). The cover of the volume entitled Partum, issued in 1970 was designed by Henryk Stażewski.
In 1971 Andrzej Partum stablished the Poetry Office in Warsaw, at 38 Poznańska Street. A small room in the attic served as the author’s gallery (later on it changed its name to Pro/La and was moved to Podchorążych Street), a place for presentations and meetings, and the mail exchange point for the international mail art movement. Even though the name of the Office was to ironically refer to excess of red tape in the communist times, Partum gathered 500 cardboard folders with comprehensive documentation of his own output and the work of such artists as J. Robakowski, S. Dróżdż, KwieKulik, J. Bereś, Z. Warpechowski, A. Warhol, D. Higgins, R. Filliou, D. Buren. Partum sent from the Poetry Office his own comments on art, as well as such provocative slogans as: Jesteś ignorantem kultury i sztuki/You are the Culture and Art Ignoramus, or Pogarda/Disdain. This is when numerous manifests or artistic programmes were published, e.g. Krytykosystem sztuki/Art Criticsystem and Zasady sztuki monodycznej/Rules of Monodic Art (both 1972), Sztuka Pro/La/Pro/La Art (1973), Manifest sztuki bezczelnej/Manifest of Insolent Art (1977), Milczenie awangardowe/Avant-Garde Silence (1978), Manifest zwierzęcy/Animal Manifest (1980), Manifest pozytywnego nihilizmu w sztuce/Manifest of Positive Nihilism in Art (1982). The very form of those utterances brought Partum closer to conceptual art that was developing back then, even though he perversely negated it in his texts. Some of his most interesting performances and installations included the 1973 Akupunktura/Acupuncture at the V Biennale of Spatial Forms at the Elbląg El Gallery (during the presentation of J. Robakowski’s flim, Partum punctured the screen with pins) and Film nie potrzebuje ekranu/Movie Doesn’t Need the Screen. In 1977 at Repassage Gallery Partum presented his ‘olfactory’ Stink sculpture made of sulphur ore hidden under a cloth covering a table giving off extremely unpleasant.
One of his best known artistic initiatives was the Milczenie Awangardowe/Avant-Garde Silence (1974) – a banner with this slogan was displayed above Krakowskie Przedmieście Street between the Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Warsaw.
In 1984 Andrzej Partum moved to Denmark. In Copenhagen he continued his activity at the Szkoła Pozytywnego Nihilizmu Sztuki i Światowego Hospicjum Sztuki/School of Positive Nihilism and the World Art Hospice that he established himself and other initiatives. After 1989 he regularly visited Poland. When he was still in Copenhagen, a group of his friends in Poland founded Partum’s prize for most uncompromising young artists. The first artist awarded with it was Zbigniew Libera.
Partum did not leave many material traces of his artistic activity, as most of his output included situational enterprises, gestures, improvised interactions, words or texts. He was an artist who strived to turn his own life into artistic creation, and he perceived art as his primary raison d’être. He contested both the official cultural activities approved by the authorities and avant-garde art. Thanks to his authentic and active approach he still was a very influential persona in the independent art milieu. He is still considered a truly legendary and ambiguous figure.