“Cezary Poniatowski: Scouts” at Wschód, New York: Art Exhibition Review

Before my visit to “Scouts,” a solo exhibition of artist Cezary Poniatowski at Wschód, New York, I was not familiar with the artist, though I was familiar with the art gallery — at least, the institution’s New York City outpost, a relatively unassuming location on Orchard St that feels homely and inviting. Its art is always inventive.

I am writing this review a significant amount of time after actually seeing the show, which closed around the point I finally managed to visit, though the ease with which I can still contemplate the pieces is an easy testament, I think, to the strength of their impact. I regularly visit dozens of exhibitions in a weekender, but I can swiftly return mentally to “Scouts.”

Though I often like to not read too much about an exhibition before actually visiting it, the artworks in “Scouts” that I saw spotlighted via images online before showing up were large, sculpted pieces of foam. The two pieces, entirely black, were wall-hanging reliefs, with variously shaped but consistently blocky segments building into a cascade. They reminded me of the painted assemblages of found wood that I have seen from the late sculptor Louise Nevelson, whose name on a flier is always likely to get me to show up somewhere.

Installation view of “Cezary Poniatowski: Scouts” at Wschód, New York, May 2 – June 8, 2024. Image courtesy of the gallery and artist.


I was pleasantly surprised to find an accompanying series of artworks utilizing visually central carpet. Partly also hanging on the wall, Poniatowski shaped the carpet (in those examples) into box-like constructions, using metal zip ties to apparently hold the forms in place and attaching sometimes surprising addendums, like a smattering of foam earplugs. These artworks also featured smaller, similarly boxy forms protruding from the main skeleton of the piece, making their shapes evoke unique cabinets.

A piece not on the wall featured a roll of carpet with a pair of binoculars placed inside and acupuncture needles spread across the assemblage.

The cabinet-like, carpet-centric pieces seemed, to me, religious. I was reminded of historical pieces I’ve seen that were — as I recall the displays — used for personal religious devotion: small, cabinet-like (or literally object-carrying) items that were meant for carrying along or placement in the home and offered a focus point for trying to connect with God, or someone above.

It’s something created under the assumption of a relationship with someone or something else: usage, but not necessarily in a physical sense. It’s as easily a strictly relational and interpersonal role, something not pinned down but still indefinitely present. It’s the knowledge of need and the idea you can address it. Determinedly starting off into something indeterminate, or perhaps gathering together a set of tools, which is an act steeped in want: a want to fix, solve, do.

Poniatowski separated these suggestions of function from actual, everyday function. The piece with a roll of carpet seems particularly indicative of this, considering the fact that you could roll it out and cover the floor without a second thought — if the artist didn’t also add a peering pair of binoculars and a smattering of needles like a thorn bush materializing in front of you from the ground up. It’s watching and waiting for a sense of resolution that it’s not clear will ever come: materials held in stasis, like a religious artifact commemorating a deity or elevated figure who is either no longer remembered or no longer at hand.

Tangible artifice that peers outwards and a reliquary without anything to hold. The barn doors hanging halfway off their hinges and squeaking every so often to remind you there was a familiar use formerly here, but no longer.

Cezary Poniatowski, “Kit” (2024). Carpet, metal zip ties, ear plugs, metal vents; 94 cm x 73 cm x 18 cm. Image courtesy of the gallery and artist.
Detail of the above; same credits

The Inward, Drawn Outwards

There’s another side to these works, too: the way in which they get to that point of their weight rhetorically falling off before making a clear connection with practical use. The boxy construction of a lot of these works suggested a progression that drew from inner, emotional states in a precise fashion: the focused passion of religious devotion and ceremony or something roughly comparable in everyday life.

It’s personal considering the more close-to-the-chest nature of those forms that are small and accumulate, but — like in the wall-hanging carpet structures — those forms are established and sharp. Even carpet as a material is relatively soft and pliable, as is foam if you think about it, but Poniatowski’s structures seem, at the top level, hulking and a bit foreboding, and that’s mirrored further down.

It’s a rotating series of living structures ripping through a chasm of potential, bringing their contents upwards and into the light, as the saying goes. Nods towards grime, decay, and simple unreliability in a structural sense get transformed. (Carpet is something that might end up easily soiled — or at least trampled underfoot by design.)

The monumental pieces might not have a clear correlate in terms of what they’re actually, in theory, memorializing, but they seem instead like commemorative marker stones from the path of getting there. An enshrined, adorned figure hearkening towards architecture, concealment, abandonment, elevation, and an indeterminate fog: bits of something recognizable or suggestive of tangible space drifting into the next bit as though flickering through memories of a city, building, or street corner. Decidedly held together (there are a lot of metal clasps!), but internally lifted well outside easy recognition.

A city without inhabitants or a name, or a place with identifying details stripped off. Still, there is character, and the structures flow with — besides their internally driven force — wavering personality. They’re decisive and sure, and you might imagine the assemblages of forms on those wall-hanging reliefs as indicating some kind of communication or memory, even if external meaning escapes you.

The exhibition is well into the rearview mirror at this point, but I’m sure whatever comes next from the artist and gallery will be great to see.

Detail of Cezary Poniatowski, Untitled (2024). Carpet, binoculars, acupuncture needles; Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the gallery and artist.
Cezary Poniatowski, “The Room” (2024). Carpet, zip ties, feather butterflies, vaporiser, smoke; 63 x 97 x 67 cm. Image courtesy of the gallery and artist.

Featured image: Installation view of “Cezary Poniatowski: Scouts” at Wschód, New York, May 2 – June 8, 2024. Image courtesy of the gallery and artist.