Aspects of the Avant-Garde

27 February 2017

What is Polish avant-garde? The centenary of the first manifestation of avant-garde art in Poland is the perfect opportunity to examine its many facets and continuations.

1917 is regarded as the symbolic beginning of the Polish avant-garde, hosting the 1st Polish Expressionist Exhibition at the Palace of the Arts in Kraków. It featured almost a hundred works by eighteen artists rebelling against existing conventions, including later formists such as Leon Chwistek, Tytus Czyżewski, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Zbigniew and Andrzej Pronaszko. It was the first major manifestation of avant-garde art in Poland, reflecting global trends and casting a fresh look at the form and function of the arts. Poland’s artistic circles of the interwar period were becoming increasingly open to experiments and new trends; works by followers of the course laid out by expressionists and continued by formists were a significant element of European art during the 1920s and 1930s. They also made a major impact on the culture of subsequent decades, including the arts, literature, theatre, film, architecture, design and fashion.

The National Museum in Krakow joins the nationwide celebrations of the anniversary with the exhibition The Power of the Avant-Garde at the Szołayski House (from 10 March). The exhibition is a modified form of the presentation The Power of the Avant-Garde Now and Then; shown at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels until January, it confronted the avant-garde of the early 20th century with contemporary art. The Cracovian instalment includes 85 works by artists including Alexander Archipenko, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Kazimierz Malewicz, Piet Mondrian, Edward Munch, Sean Scully and Jeff Wall. Poland is represented by the sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, the founder of Unism Władysław Strzemiński, the author of the theory of the multiplicity of realities Leon Chwistek, the follower of “pure form” Witkacy and the avant-garde architect Bohdan Lachert, as well as later artists such as the founder of the Second Kraków Group Andrzej Pawłowski, the electronic music pioneer Eugeniusz Rudnik, the author of animated films Jerzy Kucia, and the contemporary conceptualist Monika Sosnowska. According to the organisers, the various trends of the avant-garde from across the century come together to form a panorama of 20th century art – utopian, breaking away from mimetic traditions, creating their own worlds, and anticipating social trends.

For Cricoteka, the centenary of the Polish avant-garde is an opportunity to present works by Tadeusz Kantor and artists from the Cricot 2 theatre which accompanied the exhibition Polish Avant-Garde 1910-1978 held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome in 1979. The exhibition White Like the Snow. Tadeusz Kantor and Artists From Cricot 2. Rome 1979 (from 4 March) presents emballages selected by Kantor for the Italian show as examples of avant-garde elements in his own work. We will see them alongside other artists from Cricot 2, including Maria Jarema, Maria Stangret-Kantor, Zbigniew Gostomski, Kazimierz Mikulski, Andrzej Wełmiński and Roman Siwulak. A presentation of documentation of the activities of the Cricot 2 theatre at the Tadeusz Kantor’s Gallery-Studio recalls one of the rooms from the exhibition in Rome, where Kantor arranged the “madness of cataloguing” filling the space with photos, manifestos, images of artworks and archives.

The exploration of various manifestations of the avant-garde in Poland planned for this year involve dozens of cultural institutions from across Poland including museums, galleries, cultural centres, colleges and institutes; the events are overseen by the President of Poland and the Polish National Commission for UNESCO. (dd)

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