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2017: The Centenary of Polish Avant-garde

Exhibitions, concerts, performances, publications, lectures, conferences… These and other events organised by dozens of museums, theatres, galleries, and other cultural and educations institutions will mark the centenary of the avant-garde movement in Poland.

2017 marks the hundredth anniversary of the first significant manifestation of the Polish avant-garde.  The three museums with the richest collections of avant-garde art – the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Kraków and Museum of Art in Łódź – have embarked on an initiative to celebrate the centenary.  With the Polish Committee for UNESCO as an honorary patron and almost 50 institutions in cooperation, the events have found partners across Poland. 

There will be exhibitions and programs remembering the most important figures and phenomena of the interwar avant-garde, as well as those who developed the guiding principles for the post-war avant-garde.  There will also be projects that interrogate the heritage of the avant-garde in contemporary cultural practices. 
The Polish avant-garde

The opening at the headquarters of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Art and the exhibition of Polish Expressionists on 4th November 1917 is cited as the symbolic beginning of the Polish avant-garde.  This event anticipated the extraordinary activity of these artists in the interwar years.  The exhibition included over a hundred works from eighteen artists.  From that group emerged the Formists, who created and promoted ideas of new art.  These artists included Leon Chwistek, Tytus Czyżewski, Zbigniew Pronaszko, Henryk Gotlib, Jan Hrynkowski, Tymon Niesiołowski and Andrzej Pronaszko. 

The avant-garde had a pan-European scope and influenced the development of modern aesthetic thought and artistic practice all over the world.  The artists involved presented new insights into the forms and functions of art and were distinguished by their openness to experimentation and the constant search for new forms.  This openness directly influenced the cultural activities of subsequent generations.  At the time, Poland was an important centre of the movement and Polish artists contributed a significant, original quality.  The works of Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Tadeusz Peiper and Szymon Syrkus represented a major voice in the international discussion on modernity and put Poland on the map as a notable centre of world culture. 

The Polish avant-garde not only radically changed the character of Polish culture and shaped further developments in the visual arts, literature, film, theatre, and architecture, it also transformed the experience of reality in a meaningful way.  The one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Polish avant-garde is an excellent opportunity to draw the public’s attention to the movement and to highlight the role it plays in shaping contemporary culture.  Despite its significant influence on the present shape of our lived environment – from urban design and architecture, through industrial design and fashion, to visual signs of mass communication – the importance of the avant-garde remains poorly recognized.


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