Polish Artists’ Solidarity Act for Skopje
Skopje: The Art of Solidarity is the amazing story of the Polish art collection in Skopje, as well as the Poles who took part in reconstructing the Macedonian capital after the devastating 1963 earthquake. This exhibition is now available online on the Google Cultural Institute platform.
More than 200 paintings, drawings, and sculptures were given to the earthquake-struck city by 135 Polish artists. Fifty years later, their works will be highlighted in the art world thanks to an exhibition in the Google virtual museum organized by the Polish Embassy in Skopje and the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The collection donated by Poles is a living textbook of the first half of the 20th century. It’s a cross-section of the works of masters: professors that were significant for the post-war art scene and their students from the 40s and the beginning of the 50s.”
– says Polish Ambassador Jacek Multanowski.
This collection is not just an overview of various artistic genres and techniques, but also a story about the life of the Polish artistic bohemia of the 1960s, post-war Warsaw and Krakow as seen by the creator of avant-garde theatre Tadeusz Kantor, the novels of Marek Hłasko, and the protests against the Polish People’s Republic’s communist authorities.
“The art lasts, life goes by”
Among those who donated their works to Skopje in this act of solidarity with the city are Jerzy Nowosielski, Andrzej Strumillo, Tadeusz Dominik, Jozef Gielniak, Zbigniew Makowski, Jan Cybis, Czeslaw Rzepinski, Stanislaw Fijalkowski, Marian Malina, and Jan Tarasin. About 5000 works were donated from all over the world. The Polish collection numbers more than 100 prints, works made with the techniques of woodcutting, zincography, and lithography. There are also watercolours and gouaches on paper.
The collection is kept in the archives of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Arts, where only one Polish painting is currently exhibited; Kompozycja (Composition) by Henryk Stazewski, a pioneer of Polish avant-garde in the 1920s and 30s. The black and white artwork gains even more importance if the history of his other works is taken into account: nearly all of them were destroyed in World War 2. After the war, Stazewski’s creative output flourished again, making the composition donated to Skopje only a prologue to the richness of the museum's collection. Stazewski joined Warsaw's Klub Krzywego Kola (The Club of the Crooked Wheel) led by Marian Bogusz, who donated Kompozycja 20-59 (Composition 20-59) to the museum. Fellow club members Ewa Maria Lunkiewicz-Rogoyska and Rajmund Ziemski also sent works—Lunkiewicz-Rogoyska, a rare piece on a wooden board—Kompozycja czerwona (The Composition of the Red)— and Ziemski, his artwork Pejzaz (Landscape).
One of the most precious gifts in the Polish collection in Skopje is a canvas by Jerzy Nowosielski titled Miasto w górach (The Town in the Mountains). In addition, there are works by artists related to Kantor’s social circle (Alfred Lenica, Tadeusz Brzozowski), works of realist painters (Jerzy Krawczyk, Kiejstut Bereznicki, Benon Liberski), and works by Jan Berdyszak and Teresa Pagowska. There are also representatives of Polish sculpture: Glowa (Head) by Karol Tchorek and Oszczepnik (Javelin Thrower) by Wladyslaw Frycz.
The Skopje: The Art of Solidarity exhibition is not only the history of the art collection, but also a lesson on loyalty and support. After the tragic earthquake in July 1963, eighty percent of Skopje was in ruins and more than 1,000 people dead. The whole world came to Macedonia to help, yet it was Polish engineer Adolf Ciborowski who led Skopje’s reconstruction on behalf of the United Nations.
The virtual exhibition is accompanied by a short documentary about this incredible act of solidarity. Mimoza Nestorova-Tomic, a Macedonian architect, mentions the cooperation with Ciborowski in the film—how he protected the Old Bazaar from Russian bulldozers which were to destroy this district of Skopje. Thanks to the response of the artists who donated their works to the city, the construction of the Museum of Contemporary Arts was initiated a few months after the disaster. Waclaw Klyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzynski, and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki (the so-called “Warsaw Tigers” team of architects) designed the museum. Their experience gained in the reconstruction of destroyed Warsaw helped them design an exceptional place. Yane Calovski, an artist living and working in Skopje, speaks of the museum as a “symbol of modernity”. He sees in the building an inspiration for many artists and art theorists not only when it comes to its structure, but also to the role it plays in society’s consciousness. It is to here that works of art flowed from all over the world in an expression of international solidarity.
The exhibition and the film can be viewed online at the Google Cultural Institute.
Source: Google Cultural Institute, ed. AW, translated by Barbara Bedka