Une avant-garde polonaise: Katarzyna Kobro et Władysław Strzemiński
Centre Pompidou, Paris
For Kobro and Strzemiński Łódź was supposed to be only a stop on their way from post-revolutionary Russia to the West, to avant-garde Paris. As we all know, the city became their home. However, their dream about having Paris at their feet may finally materialise almost one hundred years later. Although Kobro and Strzemiński’s works have been exhibited in the capital of historical avant-garde before, to-date no monographic exhibition dedicated to their entire oeuvre has been ever organised. The exposition at Centre Pompidou is another – after presentations in Madrid and Malmö – exhibition project of the Muzeum Sztuki, co-organised by Adam Mickiewicz Institute, intended to remind the world audience about the position both artists should rightfully occupy in the history of the 20th century art.
The term “realistic utopia” – used in the context of the exhibition in Paris to interpret Kobro and Strzemiński’s legacy – helps us bring forward what was encapsulated in the idea of a “prototype” in the previous presentations of the body of work of both artists. According to this concept, art is a laboratory, a testing ground for artists’ ideas, “prototypes” that can provide inspiration for practical solutions that may transform social reality.
By making reference to the term “realistic utopia,” exhibition curators: Jarosław Suchan and Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska, on the one hand, highlight utopian aspects in Kobro and Strzemiński’s stance but, on the other hand, they reveal realism that permeates their attitude. Utopia can be traced in the conviction that artistic interventions may bring about social change and create new, better world. Realism, in turn, reveals itself in undertaking creative efforts being aware that each age needs its own and new answers as to how this utopian world should look like. On the realistic side we can also find firm belief, so typical for artists, that better world will not come as a result of a revolution but will emerge gradually from transformations in tangible reality and in the mindset.
Thus, “realistic utopia” remains in opposition to the common interpretation of the word utopia understood as an unrealistic, imaginary project. It is a paragon, which, nevertheless, stimulates and acts as a benchmark for developing the most practical solutions here and now. But, above all, it forces our imagination to go beyond what we see as feasible at a given moment. Today, in the times hallmarked by the TINA [There Is No Alternative] syndrome, realistic utopia interpreted along these lines appears to have been gaining in relevance.
This Paris exhibition helps us realise how the concept of “realistic utopia” was approached in individual periods of Kobro and Strzemiński’s oeuvre and in diverse fields of their activity, from painting and sculpture through design (utility design, architecture, typography, etc.) up to teaching and theoretical writings. Visitors to the exhibition at Centre Pompidou will see almost all works of Katarzyna Kobro and a substantial portion of Władysław Strzemiński’s oeuvre. Art works on show at the exhibition come not only from the collection of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź but also from the collections of the National Museum in Krakow, National Museum in Warsaw, Yad Vashem and from private collectors in Poland and other countries.
The exhibition „Une avant-garde polonaise: Katarzyna Kobro et Władysław Strzemiński” will be accompanied by a catalogue published in French and in English by the prestigious Skira publishing house. The catalogue will include texts by renowned authors, such as Masha Chlenova (New School University New York, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Steven Mansbach (University of Maryland, Washington), Mark Wieczorek (University of Washington, Seattle), Jean-Francois Chevrier (École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paryż), Paulina Kurc-Maj (Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź), Andrzej Turowski (Université de Bourgogne, Dijon), Abigail Solomon-Godeau (University of California, Santa Barbara), Paweł Mościcki (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw), Esther Levinger (University of Haifa), Leszek Brogowski (Université Rennes 2), and Meghan Forbes (MoMA New York).
The project is organised as part of POLSKA 100, the international cultural programme accompanying the centenary of Poland regaining independence.
Co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland as part of the multi-annual programme NIEPODLEGŁA 2017–2021.