The exhibition Kobro and Strzemiński: Avant-Garde Prototypes is the first such extensive presentation of the work of these two Polish artists in one of the most important modern art museums in the world.
The Polish artists Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński are two key figures of the Central European avant-garde, the creators of original artistic concepts in the fields of sculpture and painting, respectively, which at once radicalised and breached the premises of modernity. Coming in contact with Russian constructivism was a key moment for them, as was, later on, Western European Avant-garde. Together, they organised the first presentation of Polish Avant-garde (Vilnius, 1923) and were part of some of the most important Polish Avant-garde groups (Blok, from 1923 to 1926; Praesens, from 1926 to 1930; a.r., from 1929 to 1936). They also took part in the life of the international art scene, which was a great influence on both their artistic and theoretical work. In the 1920s, it resulted in the Kobro and Strzemiński creating new concepts in sculpture, painting, and even architecture and graphic design.
Kobro and Strzemiński strongly believed that each piece of art should be internally sound and constructed according to the rules which governed the particular field. They also considered art to be an experiment with form, although not devoid of social meaning. That is where the title ‘prototypes’ come into play. Władysław Strzemiński’s theory of Unism rejected everything which would disturb the logic of ‘the image itself’, while Katarzyna Kobro’s theory of sculpture was imagined as ‘shaping space’. In the 1920s and 30s, these theories came together as one. And it was this imperative of constant experimentation that became a constant part of their creative attitudes.
In 1947, Władysław Strzemiński designed the Neoplastic Room at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź – this year, at Museo Reina Sofia, this space will be recreated. The hall brought to mind the aesthetics of Neo-plasticism (or De Stijl) and the spatial compositions of Katarzyna Kobro from the 1920s. The large colourful shapes covering the walls, ceiling and floor arranged according to a strict mathematical order were intended to conduct traffic through the exhibition, as well as bring the visitors attention to the works on display.
The exhibition in Madrid will show how in the beginning of the 1930s, Strzemiński began to shift his focus from the construction of a painting to the phenomenon of seeing itself. At first, he saw it as a photo-optic occurrence, later as a process which involves the human body, which is part of history and is dependent on changes in living conditions and other external factors. In his paintings, the most powerful expression of this theory was found in a series of ‘solar’ paintings from 1948-1949, in which Strzemiński attempted to visualise the effect of the afterimage. He also gathered his thoughts on the matter in The Theory of Seeing, which was published after his death.
The Kobro and Strzemiński: Avant-Garde Prototypes exhibition is co-organised by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. It will present over 150 pieces: sculptures, spatial compositions, drawings, paintings and even furniture designs. They are examples of the realisation of the foundations of the modernist avant-garde, foreshadowing ideas which would only fully come to fruition in the work of future generations. The exhibition will show pieces from the collections of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Kraków, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as private collections.
The history of abstract art was primarily focused on the artistic rivalry between Paris and New York. The European school was usually set against the nihilistic American abstract expressionists.
However, right now it’s an idle discussion, which unnecessarily covers up different narrations of post-war abstract art, i.e. in light of the early 20th-century constructivism and Avant-Garde art. A series of lectures, accompanying the Avant-Garde Prototypes exhibition, aims to treat mid-20th century abstract art as an area for studying coexistence and creating a new narration, by using a pre-war experimental method and implementing it into the political context of the late 1940s, when the need of a new world was not yet dictated by American art. In this context, the links with post-war constructivism in Eastern Europe and Latin America are particularly visible. The series of lectures is part of the programme accompanying the exhibition dedicated to two Polish artists – Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński.
16th May: Yve-Alain Bois
23rd May: Luiza Nader
29th May: Jarosław Suchan
6th June: Mónica Amor
13th June: María Íñigo
26th June: Kaira Cabañas
Organisers of the exhibition:
Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
The exhibition is organised as part of the centenary of Avant-garde in Poland.
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía are co-organising the events accompanying the exhibition.
Compiled by MK, translated by NR, 21 Apr 2017