Corporate Collections vol.1 – My town, and in it. White & Case’s Varsavianistic collection.
How are collections planned? What makes a given item part of a collection? White & Case is the first law firm in Poland to build an innovative corporate collection with Warsaw as its subject.
The White & Case law firm is located on the top floors of the Q22 skyscraper near the Grzybowski Square in Warsaw. The view of the panorama as seen through the office windows does not leave anyone indifferent; however, it is precisely inside this very building that we may discover the surprising faces of the city. All the more since White & Case is the first law firm in Poland to build an innovative corporate collection with Warsaw as its subject. Its collections may be admired inside the office.
A visit to the law firm’s seat is a remarkable journey through Warsaw – both the historical, now non-existent one, and the contemporary one that is developing right here and right now.
Multidimensionality. Where the Old meets the New
The White & Case collection has two faces. Already in the 1990s, the Warsaw law firm began collecting maps of the Republic of Poland, engravings, woodcuts and lithographs. Over the years, it has become the owner of an impressive collection of objects of a museum rank.
Since 2018, the law firm has been developing a second pillar of its collection – contemporary photography. The selection of this new medium may at first not seem that obvious. However, as the collection’s curator Aleksandra Krasny argues, cartography and photography actually do have a lot in common. They both constitute craft-based techniques of recreating the world and they are produced on paper and in multiple copies. They both document the changes taking place over the years in various ways which are appropriate for a given medium.
The dualistic nature of the exhibition has been additionally emphasised by the surprising yet harmonious juxtaposition of museum items and contemporary works – an exhibition based on a dialogue between the past and the future.
Thus, in the foyer, we may see a photo by Tadeusz Rolke entitled Spacer z Tadeuszem Konwickim [The Walk with Tadeusz Konwicki] juxtaposed with Stanisław Antoszewicz’s drawing depicting the Evangelical Reformed Church in Leszno. They present the two tallest Warsaw buildings – the one from the 19th century and the current one. In a conference room nearby, there is a large-format photograph by Ada Zielińska made with a drone (it is the first commissioned art project in the collection). On the same wall, there also hang panoramas of the city, among others by Chris Niedenthal and Tadeusz Sumiński, as well as works by Adolf Kozarski and Adolphe Rouargue presenting the same view of Warsaw from the 19th century.
While going farther down the law firm’s corridors, we pass intimate, almost painterly photographs by Hartwig (Most Poniatowskiego [Poniatowski Bridge] (working title) and Plac Defilad [Parade Square] (working title) – both from 1965), whereas in the office of Marcin Studniarek, White & Case Managing Partner, we find a rather surprising photo from the set of Sokół and Pono’s rap clip by a representative of the young generation of photography, Kuba Dąbrowski.
This is what Marcin Studniarek has to say about the key to the selection of works and the building of the collection’s character:
„All items have one thing in common – Warsaw. Among the works gathered, you may find panoramas, genre scenes with the inhabitants, places that make up the history of the capital. All of them have been filtered through various artists’ sensitiveness and different artistic strategies. Moreover, the collection covers numerous genres: from photojournalism through documentaries to contemporary art, as well as a wealth of techniques: vintage barites, digital prints, photo collages, and even lightboxes. The collection of the White & Case law firm is therefore a Varsavianistic collection. One of its central themes is constituted by the Warsaw landscape – extremely diverse, composed of many historical layers, and thus so fascinating”.
A story of one photo. In Grospierre’s mirrored image
Grospierre’s photographs focus on the documentary analysis of the structure, construction details, shape and colour. They often “break down” architecture into its basic elements in a cold and orderly manner; other times, they emphasise the repetitiveness of the elements of the photographed structure or interiors, as a result evoking a sense of abstraction in their forms.
The interiors photographed by Grospierre are abandoned, there is no life in them, only a memory of someone’s presence.
The interior-exterior relationship characteristic of the law firm’s office finds its reflection—and the name is indeed a sign in this case—in one of Grospierre’s works from 2008, entitled Lustra [Mirrors].
“It is hard to imagine the process of creating a credible narrative about the capital’s architecture without such an artist as Mikołaj Grospierre, a photographer who as one of the first Polish artists immersed himself in modernism and began to consistently document it. The style of his work is reminiscent of the Bechers’ photographic series – as was the case with the German duo, it is based on analysis and cold observation devoid of any sentimentalism. It does show, however, a critical approach towards the flagship slogan of modernists: “form follows function” – a fascination with the structure, colour, and even its construction details. Our collection includes five pieces from the “Modern Forms” and “Modern Spaces” series: the Powiśle station, the facade of the famous yellow block of flats, as well as the interiors of the CIECH building, the Iluzjon cinema and the Europejski Hotel. The last one of them was the first photograph to be added to the collection. We chose it because not only it is a sign of the previous era (it depicts the Hotel prior to its renovation), an image of a cult place on the map of Warsaw, but also an example of a shot in which Grospierre implements not merely a documentary project, but above all a conceptual one. Whilst using the advantages of the photographed corridor, he sets a trap for the viewer. It is the viewer who is to find themselves in the spider web of reflections and answer the following (technical, or perhaps metaphysical?) question: Who did actually press the camera button, and where are they hiding? How great the creative power of photography is!” – says Krasny.
One may be tempted to say that Grospierre’s Lustra are indeed the quintessence of the multidimensionality of White & Case’s collection. A multiplied reflection of Warsaw showing this very city from various perspectives.
The White & Case law firm does not consider art as a mere form of decorative space. On the contrary, it primarily serves as a platform for employer branding activities that is to convey company values, enhance employee integration, develop sensitivity and encourage others to begin their adventure with private art collecting.