The almost-emptiness of this exhibition eerily befits an artist who disappeared without a trace in 2018, nearly three decades after she stopped making art amid struggles with schizophrenia diagnosed in the mid-1980s. Titled “When you look into my eyes, you see what?,” the show includes documentation of Ciba’s brief output as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw from 1982 to 1987, as well as a handful of photographs of her at the time and two pictures taken not long before she went missing. Most intriguing is a selection of exhibition shots displayed inside a vitrine: bold, glyphlike marks in black-and-white acrylic on large sheets hung loose in room-sized installations. One photograph depicts a sparse composition of angular lines that variously resemble an arrow, a check mark, and a triangular peak against a crimson background that curator Zuzanna Wilska suspects was stitched together from the red bottom band of numerous Polish flags.
Wilska argues for Ciba’s role as a key figure in Polish art in the 1980s, pointing to her participation in major group shows in Warsaw that encapsulated an emphatic turn to painting throughout that decade. While many peers channeled collective exhaustion with both the language of the avant-garde and a restrictive socialist regime into expressive, often absurd figuration akin to the Neue Wilde, Ciba worked in increasing isolation and cultivated a relatively unique pared-down and abstracted symbology. As hardly any of Ciba’s work exists today (a pair of doodles gifted to a friend and exhibited here bear little resemblance to her painting), the nearly vacant exhibition asserts Ciba’s presence by making her absence material. The work of preserving archives, to which the Arton Foundation is dedicated, sometimes has less to do with filling in gaps than insisting on the holes that unsettle canonized versions of art history.