The Great War
ms2, Ogrodowa 19
Is modernity, together with its contradictions, which culminated in World War I, intrinsically destructive? The Great War exhibition did not offer a conclusive answer to this question. Yet, by showing WWI as a clash of diverse, often contradictory, forces, interests, and ideas – sometimes modernising, sometimes conservative – it was intended to create space, within which the question resonated and, above all, to provide a framework for reflection on the nature of modernity transformed by war.
The exhibition discussed relationships between modern art and the experience of war as shown from different perspectives. It also highlighted differences in how the Great War was depicted in Western European art and in the art of countries of Central and Eastern Europe. To artists from Western Europe, war was a catastrophe, while in the countries of Central Europe, including Poland, it was predominantly seen through its outcomes, that is, in the light of regained independence or the revolutions it triggered. The exhibition invited the audience to reflect on these different approaches and their consequences for culture.
The Great War – whose long-term effects included not just the end of the belle époque period but also predetermined global political, social, and cultural changes that we continue to experience today – was presented as an unprecedented cultural occurrence, a circumstance with an international impact that reassessed attitudes and approaches in all areas of human life, a generational experience fundamental to the oeuvre of many artists. The exhibition showed how the Great War manifested itself in global art. It brought together works emphasizing specific features of this armed conflict in the history of humankind.
The layout of artworks juxtaposed utopian motivations behind the involvement of artists and intellectuals in the war with the apocalyptical dimensions of the global conflict. In order to demonstrate these dynamics, the curators divided the exposition into four parts: The Offensive, The Apocalypse, Mutilation and Decay, and The New Order. The exhibition space was arranged to offer a historical journey, which began from the hopes, concerns, and expectations that accompanied the early stages of the war and took the audience up to the point of realising the consequences of the conflict and the new balance of powers that emerged after the Great War. In the meantime, as they moved along, the viewers were constantly challenged to change their perspective. Visitors got the bird’s-eye view of the war theatre and could embrace its total, apocalyptical dimension, which revealed itself in thousands of troops or in advanced technical military devices. They could observe and experience the fragmentation and disintegration of the surrounding world on a previously unimaginable scale. Then the perspective zoomed in and focused on the human dimension of war; attention shifted to individual fates but also to collective attitudes, ethical aspects of taking part in the war and being its victim, as well as to the advancing mechanization of human beings. After having covered these parts of the tour, the visitor reached the New Order, looming somewhere over the war’s horizon. Paradoxically, this last part of the exhibition reflected a specific relativeness and the provisional nature of the new order within which disintegration caused by the war has never been totally internalised.
Works presented at the exhibition came from European and American museums and collections, among others from: the Musée royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire militaire in Brussels, the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, the Imperial War Museum in London, The Tate in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Collection Massimo Carpi in Rome, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, La contemporaine. Bibliothèque, archives, musée des mondes contemporains in Paris, the Musée de l’Armée–Invalides in Paris, the Musée Zadkine de la Ville de Paris, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest, the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Costakis Collection in Thessaloniki, the Von der Heydt-Museum in Wuppertal, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, the National Museum in Wrocław, the Jagiellonian Library Museum in Kraków, and, obviously, from the collection of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.
Published in conjunction with this exhibition, a comprehensive and sumptuously illustrated catalogue contains texts by Marek Bartelik, Lidia Głuchowska, Charlotte de Mille, Peter Sloterdijk, and Przemysław Strożek.
Visitors to “The Great War” exhibition saw works of art by artists such as:
Anna Airy, Roberto Marcello Baldessari, Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Sándor Bortnyik, Leon Chwistek, Tadeusz Cyprian, Tytus Czyżewski, Henry Darger, Anne-Pierre De Kat, Otto Dix, Tatiana Glebova, George Grosz, Heinrich Hoerle, Alexej Jawlensky, Paul Joostens, Ernst L. Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz, Fernand Léger, El Lissitzky, Johannes Molzhan, Paul Nash, Christopher R. W. Nevinson, Solomon Nikritin, Liubov Popova, Georges Rouault, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Victor Servranckx, Gino Severini, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Félix Vallotton, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Ossip Zadkine, and others.
Subsidised by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage within the framework of Multiannual Programme NIEPODLEGŁA [INDEPENDENT] for the years 2017-2021.