Pole, Jew, Artist. Identity and Avant-garde

exhibition: 17/10/09 – 31/01/10 conference: 15-17/10/09

Almost all avant-garde movements declared their internationalism and lack of interest in national, ethnic and religious differences. The subject of their programmes and the addressee of their activity was an individual liberated from the limits imposed by native culture. Avant-garde artists felt – and were indeed – members of a great, progressive International. Their ideology was directed towards the future and their artistic practices usually manifested the moments of defying cultural past. Therefore, analysing avant-garde as related to the native cultures of its artists might seem unjustified. But is it really?

The exhibition is an attempt to answer this question. It focuses on the identity of an avant-garde artist of Jewish origin as well as the impact of this identity on an artwork. The exhibition poses a question how this identity is constructed, what kind of community experience defines it, how strongly it is determined by belonging to diaspora culture or the efforts to overcome it. The exhibition is aimed at showing a wide range of attitudes: from modernising attempts at creating ‘new national Jewish art’, to the cultivation of avant-garde ethos, but only within one’s own environment, to assimilation, rejection of the context of one’s own culture, identification with Polish or international avant-garde scene. The exhibition presents works by Jung Idysz artists (Jankiel Adler, Marek Szwarc, Mojżesz Broderson), works by artists related to the Formists (Henryk Gottlieb), to the Constructivist movement (Henryk Berlewi, Teresa Żarnowerówna, Samuel Szczekacz) and to surrealist artes (Ludwik Lille, Marek Włodarski), as well as the radical left-wing Grupa Krakowska (Jonasz Stern, Sasza Blonder). As well as painting, graphic arts and sculpture, the exhibition also presents phenomena related to literary, theatre and music avant-garde. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication featuring texts by the most renowned world experts in the field of Jewish avant-garde culture and an international conference focusing on the problem.

Curators: Joanna Ritt, Jarosław Suchan

Exhibition under the Honorary Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński

Academic Conference
Avant-garde is considered a phenomenon independent of culture or nationality, defying tradition, geared towards a radical transformation of social reality. The curators would like to question this approach, trying to ‘localise’ avant-garde. Experts from Poland, the USA, Germany, France and Canada, representing various academic disciplines such as art history, theatre history, culture studies and literature studies, have been invited to participate in the conference. The experts will examine the tensions between ethnicity and the universalistic ethos of avant-garde art in the biographies and works of numerous artists of Jewish origin. They will analyse the process of constructing identities of avant-garde artists from a particular cultural context, they will discuss what kind of community experience defined their approach and the extent to which this experience determined if they felt part of diaspora culture or defied tradition. A wide range of attitudes will be discussed: from modernising attempts at creating ‘new national Jewish art’, to the cultivation of avant-garde ethos, but only within one’s own environment, to assimilation, rejection of the context of one’s own culture, identification with either Polish or international avant-garde scene. The conference will focus on four thematic areas: avant-garde and Yiddish, avant-garde and revolution, avant-garde and cosmopolitanism, avant-garde and Polish-Jewish relations.

Experts invited to participate in the conference:

Prof. Marek Bartelik, Cooper Union School of Art, New York
Prof. Hans-Peter Bayerdörfer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich
Prof. Jerzy Jarzębski, Jagiellonian University
Prof. Anna Kuligowska-Korzeniewska, University of Łódź
Prof. Małgorzata Leyko, University of Łódź
Prof. Gail Levin, Baruch College and Graduate Center, City University of New York
Prof. Gilles Rozier, Maison de la culture Yiddish, Bibliothèque Medem, Paris
Prof. Seth L. Wolitz, University of Texas, Austin
Prof. Jerzy Malinowski, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń
Prof. Andrzej Turowski, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon
Prof. Carol Zemel, York University, Toronto

Conference sessions will be held in Polish and English, with simultaneous interpreting.

The publication of a post-conference volume in Polish and English is planned.

Further information can be obtained from:

Łukasz Biskupski, conference secretary
+ 48 502 619 990


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