The "a.r." artistic group ("revolutionary artists", "real avant-garde"), active in the years 1929-1936, was one of the most noted leftist Polish avant-garde groups of the interwar period. It was created by poets and artists - former associates of the Kraków "Zwrotnica" magazine and ex-members of avant-garde groups: "Blok" and "Praesens".
In 1929, after the opening of the Universal National Exhibition in Poznań Władysław Strzeminski, Katarzyna Kobro and Henryk Stażewski left "Praesens" due to conflicts involved with a firm in the group, community of architects. Later that same year, Strzemiński collaborated with Julian Przyboś and by the end of the year an artistic group was established which in the following year was joined by poet Jan Brzękowski. At the time, Strzeminski and Kobro lived in Koluszki, Stazewski in Warsaw, Przyboś in Cieszyn and Brzękowski in Paris. In 1931, Strzemiński and Kobro moved to Łódź and established it as the official headquarters of the "a.r." group.
The nature of this group, which consisted of only five members from various parts of the country was quite original. The artists did not prepare joint exhibitions, but showed their work at collective exhibitions in Poland and abroad. They regularly exhibited at the Warsaw Institute of Art Propaganda and also participated in numerous avant-garde performances. The group primarily focused on organizational activities, publishing theoretical treatises and texts on ideological matters. Among the greatest achievements of "a.r." should be creating the International Collection of Modern Art at the Municipal Museum of History and Art in Łódź, which today is the foundation of the collections of the Museum of Art and for the series of volumes "a.r." library.
It was initiated by Strzemiński with the help of Brzękowski and Stażewski, who at the time were in Paris. Published in 1931 it was the second collection after Hanover in which works of contemporary masters were gathered. Except the works of Polish artists it also included representatives of the radical European avant-garde from Paris groups "Cercle et Carré" and "Abstraction-Création", such as Hans Arp, Michel Seuphora, Theo Van Doesburg, Fernando Legér, Max Ernst, Amédée Ozenfant and Enric Prampolini.
Publishers of the "a.r." Library and statements issued by the artists carried ideological manifestations aimed at presenting the history and theories of modern art. The first of the series was Julian Przyboś's volume of poetry "From beyond"/"Z ponad" (1930), at the time considered the most radical example of a poet-artist collaboration. The Library also published: Strzemiński's and Kobro's "Composition of Space: Calculations of Spatio-Temporal Rhythm" (1930), two poetry volumes by Brzękowski and two by Przyboś in Strzemiński's typography, Strzemiński's "Functional print"/"Druk funkcjonalny" (1935). Brzękowski's volumes contained drawings by Hans Arp ("In the second person"/"W drugiej osobie") and Max Ernst ("Around the Compressed Mouth"/"Zaciśnięte dookoła ust").
Despite their attempts and efforts, the artists of "a.r." failed to create an official magazine for the group, however they cooperated with several other periodicals. Initially, it was the bilingual journal L'Art Contemporain - Modern Art devoted to the avant-garde, issued in Paris by Brzękowski in collaboration with Wanda Grabowska, while in Poland it mainly proceeded with the literary avant-garde and magazines such as Europe / Europa and Line / Linia.
Within the group there were clearly marked differences in the areas of artistic explorations. The artists, also interested in contemporary typography, created in fields of painting and sculpture, still often collaborating with architects. Poets realized their interests in the domain of literature, they practiced in journalism and also devoted their attention to motion pictures.
What held the group together was an ideological coherence. Everyone supported the postulate of combing various art domains in serving the society. The ideological aspect of the creative output and the need of getting involved in the social life was another common belief uniting the members of the group. All were involved in didactic and editorial work, organisational activities and also cultivated artistic critique and art theory. This consistency of views could result from the fact that the group was formed when all of them already had a clear vision on art, followed by artistic experience.
The "'a.r.' Statements" were devoted to primarily ideological issues. The texts were collectively written and presented the groups stands not only on artistic matters, but also on social and political issues. The "'a.r.' Statements" published in 1930 proclaimed the need for collaborating art with poetry and a struggle for new art in all the fields of artistic creation. It also consisted a critique of the artistic "delays" in relation to the leading European avant-garde and an accompanying postulate of artistic current scene.
"'a.r.' Statements" No. 2 published by the end of year 1932 had a form of a four page leaflet consisting of comments on mass art and new persuasion possibilities that it gives, having an effective impact on the society. It also took up the issue of national art dedicated to a broad mass of viewers. It analyzed formal matters concerning the composition of the painting and pure painterly elements such as contrast, referred to in one of the texts as a source of form. Strzemiński inquired into the issue of distinguishing pure art of a "laboratory" nature that creates forms from art that effectuates these art forms into everyday life. The architects were mainly interested in the standardization in architecture, furniture industry and other applied arts. In addition to this thematically broad repertoire included in this small bulletin it also managed to present the "a.r." alphabet project, reproductions, poems and lyrics dedicated to poetry.
In retrospect, the greatest achievement of the "a.r" group was creating the collection of the most prominent artists of the European avant-garde presented at the Municipal Museum of History and Art in Łódź in 1928. Władysław Strzmiński used the authorities attention evolving around art and in 1929 proposed to transfer the collection to the museum in form of group's artistic deposit. The project was finalized in 1931.Throughout this time it was enriched and developed by the artists. Strzemiński and Kobro gathered collections across the country, while Stażewski did the same in Paris. Thanks to his former student, Wanda Chodasiewicz-Grabowska, he gained contacts with the avant-garde enviroment. Although the first results were not spectacular, it was an undoubtful achievement of including Jan Brzękowski to these operations; because he was acquainted with the avant-garde enviroment through the editorial board of "L'Art Contemporain - Modern Art"he sort of began the dynamic process of expanding the set and brought in works of Prampolini, Arp and Ernst. When the collection was passed on to the Łódź Museum, it consisted of 21 pieces, that were privately transported to the country.
After signinga contract withthe museumin 1931,it was possible tofinance thetransport and therefore the collection comprised of 75 works, only fifteen of which were made by Polish artists. In 1939, it reached up to 111 pieces. The project's success was largely associated with Strzemiński's formidable status in Łódź which stemmed from his personality and charisma, rather than his official obligations.
The "a.r." group was never officially dissolved,however around the year 1932 its activity in the artistic and theoretical sphere weakened. The last publication of the "a.r." Library was released in 1936.
• Andrzej Turowski, "Polish Constructivism: an attempt to reconstruct the trend of 1921 - 1931"/ "Konstruktywizm polski: próba rekonstrukcji nurtu 1921-1934", Wrocław 1981
• Andrzej Turowski, "Builders of the world. From the history of radical modernism"/"Budowniczowie świata. Z dziejów radykalnego modernizmu", Kraków 2000
• "The Polish artistic life in years 1915- 1939"/ "Polskie życie artystyczne w latach 1915-1939", Wrocław 1974
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, November 2010. Translated by Sylwia Wojda, Sierpień 2011.