100 Years of the Avant-garde in Poland

Exhibitions, concerts, performances, publications, lectures, conferences … These and other events prepared by tens of museums, theatres, galleries, as well as other cultural or research institutions will all be part of the celebrations to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Polish avant-garde. They will serve as a reminder of the most prominent personalities and phenomena of interwar avant-garde and will draw attention to artists who developed avant-garde principles in the post-war period. Some projects will pose questions concerning the relevance of avant-garde legacy for contemporary cultural practice.  



1. Avant-Garde Histories Revisited


Within the framework of celebrations the National Museum in Warsaw invites to the exhibition that will present works from its collection of graphics and drawings by artists of the Polish avant-garde that rarely get exhibited. Visitors will have the opportunity to see artworks of representatives of the major groups: Expressionists, Formists, Lviv Surrealists, Bunt, BLOK, Praesens, the a.r. group, and the Cracow Group.  The Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland in cooperation with the National Museum in Krakow prepares two exhibitions on the occasion.  The first one, “Formists” will be devoted to artworks influenced by religious motifs and created by members of this avant-garde group and will open in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. The second exhibition, “The Power of the Avant-garde” will be housed in the Szołayski House (Kamienica Szołayskich), a branch of the Krakow Museum and will bring together the works of the major representatives of the world avant-garde, such as: Edvard Munch, Kazimir Malevich, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger or Georges Rouault, and Polish avant-garde artists: Leon Chwistek, Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Andrzej Pawłowski, and Marek Piasecki. Relationships of one of the most prominent European avant-garde artist with Poland will be the theme of an exhibition project of the National Museum in Poznan “Hans Arp and Polish Art”. A series of exhibitions that attempt to revisit the until now approach to avant-garde legacy is planned by the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, the institution perhaps the most closely associated with the history of the Polish avant-garde. The most important among them is a monograph exhibition of the oeuvre of Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński prepared for the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the first ever most complete overview of Polish avant-garde artists’ achievements on display at such a prominent museum. Further five exhibitions organised in the premises of the Łódź museum will serve as reminders of the history of the avant-garde movement: “Natureculture. Avant-garde and Environment” that discusses the impact of proto-environmental thinking upon avant-garde movements; “Enrico Prampolini and Theatre of Mechanic Constructions. Futurism and Staging Techniques of Polish Avant-garde” concerning linkages between Italian Futurism and domestic scenographic experiments; “Montages. Debora Vogel and New City Legend” that presents the avant-garde landscape of interwar Poland from the perspective of an eminent Polish-Jewish writer and theoretician; “Life Organisers. De Stijl and Avant-garde Design in Poland” exploring international contexts that shaped contemporary Polish architecture and design, and “Moved Bodies. Choreographies of Modernity” focused on the organisation and rationalisation of movement, one of the key issues for Modernism, taking Katarzyna Kobro’s theory and practice as a reference point.  With reference to the Łódź programme, National Museum in Wrocław will display an installation that relates to “Afterimage”, the latest film of Andrzej Wajda showing last years of Władysław Strzemiński’s life. Moreover, the Silesian Museum in Katowice, together with Katowice Historical Museum, prepares an exhibition project on the history of avant-garde in Silesia.


Since October 2016 the National Museum in Warsaw will hold an annual series of lectures “Breakthrough, Continuity or Dialogue? 20th and 21st Century Art in the Context of Old Masters Art”. The series “Tuesdays at the Museum” will include, inter alia, discussions on “Tradition versus Avant-garde. Polish Artists and Regained Independence”, as well as “Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Art” in the Gallery of 20th and 21st Century Art. National Museum in Warsaw invites children, teenagers, and families to lessons at the museum and family workshops: “Modern Art for Beginners”, “Art Made of Circles and Squares”, “Gallery of Contrasts”. Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor Cricoteka will carry out a research project including an exhibition, a conference and a publication devoted to the Theatre Cricot founded in Krakow in 1933 by a group of young visual artists and avant-garde writers headed by Józef Jarema. Another museum in Krakow, Museum of History of Photography, will host showings and lectures on the pre-war film avant-garde (artists such as Feliks Kuczkowski, Janusz Maria Brzeski, Jalu Kurek) and films created in the circles of post-war avant-garde.  Z. Raszewski Theatre Institute within the framework of “Avant-garde Regained”, a project that has been delivered for some years already, will propose a series of events to disseminate knowledge about less known accomplishments of Polish avant-garde theatre of the 20th century. Finally, Nowy Theatre in Łódź will organise an open script competition for a play about the avant-garde. Projects connected with the celebrations of the one hundredth anniversary of avant-garde movement will also include concerts. Special programme is being prepared by the International Festival of Contemporary Music “Warsaw Autumn”: the Grand Theatre Opera House in Łódź will show the first public performance ever of Alexandre Tansman’s “The Golden Fleece” while the Academy of Music in Łódź, as a part of the series of meetings “Pillars of the Polish Avant-garde Music”, will give its public the opportunity to listen to rarely performed pieces composed by Józef Koffler, the first Polish composer to use the twelve-tone technique, and the pieces by other Polish composers inspired by the art of Kobro and Strzemiński.


Plans for 2017 also include many publications devoted to the avant-garde. The Institute of Architecture in Krakow will publish an anthology of theoretical and critical texts about modern architecture in Poland with a selection of essays and comments. The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw is preparing a publication by Andrzej Turowski, one of the most important Polish researchers of the 20th century art, on the history of radical avant-garde. The Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, besides a series of publications connected with the above-mentioned exhibitions, will release the re-edition of Władysław Strzeminski’s “Theory of Vision”, one of the major theoretical writings in the history of Polish Modernism; it will also – in cooperation with one of the leading publishing houses – initiate a series of popular monographs devoted to important personalities and the phenomena of Polish 20th century art. 



2. Avant-garde’s Continuation 


History of the Polish avant-garde goes beyond the interwar period. Avant-garde tradition and ethos exerted significant impact upon Polish artists decades later and largely determined the shape and direction of their works. These aspects will be reminded by, inter alia, the National Museum in Wrocław in its exhibition focused on the use of new media in Polish art in the years 1945–1980. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow MOCAK will organise a retrospective of Jonasz Stern, a great artist and a living link between the first avant-garde and it post-war continuation. The Warsaw Museum of Modern Art will show an exhibition devoted to Oskar Hansen, one of the major personalities of Polish 20th century architecture, the author of an extremely influential Open Form Theory. The BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Zielona Góra will recall Marian Szpakowski, an artist and initiator of the “Golden Grape”, one of the most important cyclical events of the Polish neo-avant-garde. The BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Wroclaw will organise a group exposition “This is Natalia” devoted to the oeuvre of Natalia LL, one of the leading female artists of the domestic avant-garde that will also show the works of young artists who relate to her. The Krakow Bunkier Sztuki [Bunker of Art] under the “Trauma and Revival” project will hold an international conference on the history of avant-garde exhibition practices used as a tool to build up the narrative about post-war Europe. Last but not least, the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art in Warsaw will publish a book “Avant-Garde in CBWA” that documents the presence of avant-garde art in the gallery in the 1950s and 1960s.


3. Avant-garde Today


While some formal solutions worked out by the avant-garde today have only purely historical value, the ethos of experimenting and engagement, so much typical of the avant-garde, apparently continues to have widespread appeal among contemporary artists. There are more events planned for the next year designed to explore the theme. To start with, Bunkier Sztuki in Krakow will open an international exhibition “The Trouble of Value” on how value is generated and assessed in art after the avant-garde breakthrough. The Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok will present the “Cine-Eye” project showing how the ideas of Dziga Vertov, one of the most important representatives of constructivist avant-garde cinema, impact contemporary artistic practice – from experiments of the Academy of Movement and artists connected with the Film Workshops up to the works of the youngest generation of artists. Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź will host an international exhibition  “Museum of Rhythm”, which by referring to Henri Lefebvre’s writings and to the theories of  Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński, will discuss various forms, in which contemporary art exploits the phenomenon of rhythm. Relevance of the avant-garde legacy for today’s art in globalised world will be examined by an exhibition project prepared by the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw “Gotong Royong” being the outcome of 2-year cooperation with Indonesian art centre Jatiwangi Art Factory.


The City of Gdynia Museum will propose a series of events under the common title “Avant-garde Manual” to discuss a variety of types of mediation that could enable the meeting of the so called “ordinary man” with artworks originating in avant-garde tradition. The National Museum in  Gdansk  will release a publication bringing together statements and contributions of contemporary artists and theoreticians on the place avant-garde occupies in the contemporary world. Kronika Gallery in Bytom will carry out a project aimed at studying the Silesian neo-avant-garde and its impact upon art as it is today. The Bytom gallery will also host an exhibition that presents the development of the “language of boasts and threats” from the times of Dada until Hip-Hop diss.  And finally, the Academy of Music in Łódź will deliver three thematic series designed to acquaint the audience with contemporary forms of transforming avant-garde music and visual arts legacy: “New Generation of Avant-Garde Music”, “Echoes of Guernica”, and “City-Machine” focused on artworks inspired by technical civilisation and modernist architecture.


Already at this point of time more than 50 institutions and organisations from all over the country have joined their efforts to celebrate one hundred years of Polish avant-garde and their number increases every day. Their enthusiastic response to the idea of the celebration is a clear evidence of the appeal of avant-garde tradition and ethos as a relevant point of reference and living source of inspiration for contemporary cultural practice developed by different circles in different fields of art.    

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