Modernizations 1918-1939. The Future Perfect
Curator: Andrzej Szczerski
In the interwar period an attempt was made to build a modernistic Mid-Eastern Europe made up of independent countries, trying to find a place for them within the centre of civilization. Although it was never completed the interwar period created the bases for a new identity of the region, questioning the thesis of its marginal importance for the “modern era”. The most important of modernization within visual arts, architecture and design affirming their significance for shaping the modern face of „New Europe” are being presented in the Museum of Art.
The map of Europe shaped after 1918 had had no precedent in history. Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Latvia and Estonia were created between the Baltic and Adriatic Seas, and Poland, Lithuania and Hungary were outlined by new boarders. Each of these countries, striving to find itself in the centre of modernity, looked for modernization solutions. Modern art, architecture and design were applied to promote and shape them. The future was no longer a distant prospect but was becoming an everyday experience and modernisation centres were making use of „the future perfect tense”.
Relationships between art and modernization had different faces. The 1919 Hungarian revolution used modern art for propaganda purposes for the first time in history. The Artists created agitational posters, monumental frescos and art settings for Labour Day celebrations instead of paintings. Yugoslavian avant-garde, gathered around Zenith journal, were even more radical: they propagated a vision of the „Balkanisation of Europe” by means of destruction of the Mediterranean tradition and seizing power by a barbaric genius.
Realisations of model cities, treated as a pattern of modernity for whole countries, were an important element of modernisation. In Czechoslovakia, Zlin – Tomasz Bata’s empire – became such a place. New housing estates, schools, boarding houses, the whole cultural and social infrastructure were built around the shoe factory. They were supposed to modernize not only public space, but also private life. In Poland, Gdynia became the monument of modernity: a modern port and a modernistic city, the pride of the Second Polish Republic, a symbol of a dynamically developing country and its ambitious objectives. Modern architecture and industry had also become a source of inspiration for painters and photographers who immortalized the life of „a new man”.
The exhibition "Modernizations 1918-1939.The Future Perfect" is a nearly three-month project combining the exposition, a series of lectures and screenings concerning the social and philosophical dimensions of modernisations in the interwar period and an extended education programme. Over 300 items are being presented in the Museum: paintings, drawings, prints, posters, photos, photomontages, sculptures, as well as advertising clips and… shoes. Architectural objects are present in a form of archival photos and models. The exhibits come from museums and private collections from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia; the majority of them have not yet been shown to Polish audiences. The series of lectures has been organised in cooperation with the University of Lodz. Students may have the course in the Museum included as one of the university courses. The education programme is created with four groups of recipients in mind. As a part of the „Citymaker” („Miastorób”) action the youngest visitors create a scale model of an utopian city. Those who are somewhat older, together with their parents, build futuro-machines. Secondary-school pupils can – to order – take part in workshops „Advertising Makes You Fit” („Reklama krzepi”). Adults in turn decipher their childhood books as a part of “Alice has a utopia” („Ala ma utopię”) meetings. The exhibition is being accompanied by an academic publication by dr Andrzej Szczerski: Modernizations. Art and Architecture in the New Countries of Central-Eastern Europe 1918-1939 („Modernizacje. Sztuka i architektura w nowych państwach Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej 1918-1939").