Une avant-garde polonaise: Katarzyna Kobro et Władysław Strzemiński
Centre Pompidou, Paris
To Kobro and Strzemiński, Łódź was to have been only a stop on their way from post-revolutionary Russia to the West, to avant-garde Paris. As we know, the city of Łódź 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 the historical Avant-garde before, to date no monographic exhibition dedicated to their entire oeuvre has ever been organised. Following presentations in Madrid and Malmö, the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou was another exhibition project by Muzeum Sztuki that is intended to remind the world audience about the position both artists should rightfully occupy in the history of twentieth-century art.
The term “realistic utopia” – used in the context of the exhibition in Paris to interpret Kobro and Strzemiński’s legacy – helped us bring forward what in the previous presentations of the body of these artists’ work was encapsulated in the idea of a “prototype”. According to this concept, art is a laboratory, a testing ground for artists’ ideas, “prototypes” that can provide inspiration for practical solutions that could transform social reality.
By making reference to the term “realistic utopia”, the exhibition’s curators, Jarosław Suchan and Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska, highlighted on the one hand, utopian aspects in Kobro and Strzemiński’s stance but, on the other hand, revealed a realism that permeated their attitude. Utopia can be traced in the conviction that artistic interventions may bring about social change and create a new, better world. Realism, in turn, reveals itself in undertaking creative efforts while being aware that each age needs its own fresh answers about what this utopian world should look like. On the realistic side we can also find the firm belief, so typical of artists, that a 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 that, 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 helped 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 the Centre Pompidou saw almost all the surviving works of Katarzyna Kobro and a substantial portion of Władysław Strzemiński’s oeuvre. Art works on show at the exhibition came not only from the collection of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź but also from the collections of the National Museum in Kraków, the 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” was accompanied by a catalogue published in French and in English by the prestigious Skira publishing house. The catalogue included texts by renowned authors, such as Masha Chlenova (New School University, New York, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), Steven Mansbach (University of Maryland, College Park), Mark Wieczorek (University of Washington, Seattle), Jean-François Chevrier (École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris), 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 was 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.