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POLISH ART (1955-1985)
"Polish art of the post World War II decade-marked by postwar trauma, stagnation, isolation, and a desperate attempt to define its new language-from 1949 to 1954 was trapped by the rigorous premises of the officially imposed socialist realism, which vanished almost immediately after Stalin's death. In 1955, an exhibition of young artists called Against War, Against Fascism, held at the Warsaw's Arsenal building, became a symbol of the nation's artistic breakthrough from the Stalinist era. The date is still important, even though the exhibit failed to propose a counter-program or any integrated artistic vision for the future. In 1955, in addition to the Arsenal show, Polish artists started to re-establish their contacts with Western Europe, America and the other parts of the world. Various illustrated journals, magazines and exhibition catalogs that reached Poland, as well as personal travels and contacts gave Polish artists the desired, but still very limited, access to the Western artistic ideas.
In a desperate search for a new artistic vision, many rather ephemeral groups came to life between 1955 and 1960, including "Group 55" in Warsaw, "Group R-55" in Poznan, "Group St-53" in Katowice and "Castle" in Lublin. The "Cracow Group II" was set up in 1957 as a continuation of the pre-war avant-garde "Cracow Grup." Of many influential new galleries, the most famous ones were the "Crooked Circle Gallery" in Warsaw and "Krzysztofory" in Cracow. The interests of these Polish artists ranged from pure geometric abstraction, through non-geometric abstraction influenced by the increasingly popular Structuralism and Informel, to figurative art based on intricately complicated visual metaphor. Some of the most original, independently promising and innovative artistic offerings from the 1950s unfortunately came from those who died prematurely: Wladyslaw Strzeminski (1952), Wladyslaw Cwenarski (1953), Andrzej Wroblewski (1957) and Maria Jarema (1958), to mention but a few. Jadwiga Maziarska, Wladyslaw Hasior, Tadeusz Kantor, and Jerzy Rosolowicz were among those who independently anticipated in Poland what was still to be explored or discovered in the West.
During the two focal decades of our exhibition (1960-1980), the development of Polish art was very dynamic and multidirectional. In the early 60s, most of the artistic associations of the 1950s (except the "Cracow Group") disintegrated and the artistic life concentrated around several important galleries such as "El'' Gallery in Elblag, ''od-Nowa" (Anew) in Poznan, "Foxal" and "Wspolczesna" (Contemporary) in Warsaw, and "Mona Lisa" in Wroclaw. The artists were able to catch up slowly with the world's art mainstream, but isolation was still a serious problem.
The initially strong but somehow shallow fascination with abstraction in the late 1950s, in the 60s gave way either to a more in-depth involvement with it or a return to objectivity and figuration, and the early interest in the painting of
matter evolved into organic structuralism and abstract expressionism. Also, the intellectual trend, which was intended to serve as a bridge between an artistic thought and science, became popular among Polish artists. Its proponents, rooted in the tradition of the prewar constructivist avant-garde, especially in Warsaw and Lodz, believed that the cognitive element was supremely important in contemporary art. By prompting the public to think, the artists aspired to contribute to the broadening of human horizons and imagination. Interestingly, some of the popular Western trends had never been truly adapted to the Polish sensibility-pop art and photo-realism among them-but Polish artists experimented widely with other trends and tendencies. Many artists played an intellectually involving game on the edge of conceptual art, creating works rich in philosophical reflection and innovative language. Others explored different tendencies, which manifested itself in a variety of forms, ranging from a synthetic vision expressed in strictly geometric shapes, through analyses of the cognitive potential of the human mind, to reflections on the relationships between structures existing in nature and elements of the civilized world. Some artists documented reality and commented on it; others tried to analyze art itself, particularly its language, and to explore the visual and psychological impact of signs. All these attempts in various areas of artistic penetration led to metaphysical, ontological, or existential reflection. A wide experimentation with new media-characteristic of the time-intended to enrich the objective visual language in order to free it from potential aesthetic prejudices.
Most of the truly innovative forms of expression in Polish art between 1955 and 1985 were born on the borderline of different branches of art, or art and other human activities. It applies to the exquisite painterly qualities of Polish poster, to Jan Hasior's art in the late 1950s, and to Magdalena Abakanowicz's and Roman Opalka's original ideas from the 1960s. Also, to the same category of the successful borderline experiments belongs the genuine Polish avant-garde of the 1970s. It includes the short films by the Film Form Workshop in Lodz, the ritual performance of Jerzy Beres, and-maybe the most important Polish phenomenon-the internationally acclaimed visual theater represented by Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Leszek Madzik and Jozef Szajna.