The Themersons and the Avant-Garde

Franciszka & Stefan Themerson
and Jankel Adler, Raoul Hausmann, Jarosław Kozłowski,  Wojciech Puś and Kurt Schwitters
ms2, 19 Ogrodowa St
22nd February - 5th May 2013

He - a writer, an artist and a composer. She - a painter, book illustrator and a set designer. Franciszka and Stefan Themerson started creating experimental films and were among the most versatile avant-garde artists in Polish art of the 20th century. The exhibition reveals the character of the cooperation between the two artists who proposed an experimental film formula, unique in the Polish context in the 1930s. By combining the poetics of photomontage with the lyrical dimension of the film frame the Themersons were ahead of their times by several decades in comparison with the new-media artists. By emphasising the multitude of threads in the Themersons creative output, the exhibition reveals correspondences between their works and the selected works of the representatives of the first Avant-Garde and contemporary art.

The intention of this project is bringing the idea of avant-garde, as the Themersons would define it, closer to the recipients. The idea associated their works with the function of establishing means aiming at the state of unity of sensual experience and activation of recipients' intellectual capabilities. They realised the programme as a part of their intermedia quest examining correspondences between artistic messages formulated by means of various media: a photogram, drawing, painting, literary text. The model and a permanent point of reference for their practices was film defined as a medium allowing for a variety of image-creating procedures equipped with the function of a stimulator for the processes of imagination.
The extended formula of a film proposed by the Themersons associates artistic creation with the function of making reality accessible: of regaining the 'reality of things' obscured by languages of politics and ideologies. In the face of war experiences they associated the spirit of the avant-garde rebellion with the objection to any demonstration of conservatism and rationality treated as an object.
The Themersons' art can be treated as a generalisation of the idea of classic avant-garde, an attempt at saving it and planting it in a new historical context: the devastated cultural landscape of post-war Europe.

The exhibition includes screenings of the remaining films by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson: Przygoda człowieka poczciwego (The Adventure of a Good Citizen, 1937), Calling Mr. Smith (1943) and Oko i ucho (The Eye and the Ear, 1944-45), Stefan Themerson's collages and photograms related to film. Moreover, it contains a vast selection of Franciszka Themerson's drawings and paintings and the couple's joint publications of Gaberbocchus Press. We also reveal connections between the Themersons' and other artists' attitudes by associating the couple's works with the works of, among others, Jankel Adler, Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters. The complementation of the project are two contemporary works by Jarosław Kozłowski and Wojciech Puś.

The works presented at the exhibition are taken from the following collections: Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Themersons Archive in London, Ubu Gallery in New York, Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, Signum Foundation as well as from private collections in France and Poland.

The exhibition is supported by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage as a part of The Themersons' Year celebrations organized under the patronage of the Book Institute.

A complement of the exhibition is a comic book by Franciszka Themerson and a programme of accompanying events. An extensive, richly-illustrated catalogue has also been published.

Curator: Paweł Polit

UBU - Franciszka Themerson

Related events:

11.12.2012 Stuart Bailey - Publishing as Palimpsest

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