Józef Chrobak was an art curator, a great expert on and promoter of Tadeusz Kantor and the Krakow Group's work, one of the founders of PI Gallery – the first private Polish cultural institution – and, in the eighties, the director of the legendary Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków.
Art curator, promoter of Tadeusz Kantor's work, founder of PI Gallery.
Józef Chrobak was born in 1948. All his life he was connected to Kraków and its artistic scene. He studied physics and astronomy at the Jagiellonian University.
In 1972, together with Maria Anna Potocka, who is now the director of the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, he founded the PI Gallery (active until 1980). It was the first private cultural institution in Poland. In 1974 he opened the Pawilon Gallery in Nowa Huta, where he organised exhibitions by artists from the Grupa Krakowska (Krakow Group).
From 1985 he worked as the director of one of the most important Polish cultural institutions of the 20th century: the Krzysztofory Gallery, which presents works by the Krakow Group Artistic Association. The history of this place begins in the 1930s, when, in the Krzysztofory Palace at 2 Szczepanska Street, the avant-garde Artistic Association Krakow Group opened its premises. In 1957, the Krzysztofory Gallery was reopened in the palace's basement. This initiative was undertaken by the milieu of the Krakow Group II, to which great artists working in the post-war times were connected: Maria Jarema (who was also active before the war), Tadeusz Kantor (whose famous Cricot 2 Theatre had its abode in the gallery), Jerzy Bereś, Janina Kraupe, Jadwiga Maziarska, Jerzy Nowosielski, and Jonasz Stern.
In an interview with Wyborcza.pl, Maria Anna Potocka recalls:
Kantor wanted him to be his actor. He always firmly rejected the offer. He said that if Kantor returned to this idea, they would argue. I think that their characters were identical.
From 1980 onwards, Chrobak realised many exhibitions in the Starmach Gallery. In 1998 he was the co-curator (with Marek Świca) of the 1st Exhibition of Modern Art: Fifty Years Later, which was one of the most important artistic events in post-war Poland. The greatests avant-garde artists from all of Poland were invited to this event, which turned out to be the most important review of tendencies and trends in Polish art of the 1940s. The exhibition in the Starmach Gallery in Kraków (then repeated in Warsaw's Zachęta in 2000) aimed to recreate the original presentation as well as present a new outlook on the works of artists from that time.
There are just a few people in Poland to whom post-war art owes so much (…) And yet he was a very modest man, he didn't give interviews, didn't seek popularity. He was my authority when it came to post-war avant-garde classics.
– says Andrzej Starmach, art dealer and historian, in an interview for Wyborcza.pl
Starting in 2000 he worked as a curator for Cricoteca – he organised exhibitions dedicated to Tadeusz Kantor in Palazzo Pitti in Florence, in KUMU Museum in Tallin, and in the National Gallery of Vilnius. He was a curator of exhibitions of Władysław Hasior, and Krzysztof Niemczyk and a joint presentation of Beuys and Kantor in the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (the exhibit "Beuys, Kantor, Demarco" is set to open on October 16th, 2015).
The director of Cricoteca, Natalia Zarzecka says:
He was one of the main curators of Cricoteka. And one of the most active people in the world. He loved what he did. He had a great influence on many younger theatre and art historians. He knew everything about Kantor.
Publications and Prizes
He was the author of a few dozen catalogues, studies and essays concerning artists from the Kraków Group and artistic life in 20th century Kraków and Poland. Among other things, he was the co-editor (together with Marek Świca) of the comprehensive study 1st Exhibition of Modern Art: Fifty Years Later, which included archival materials, essays, photographs, and a reprint of the catalogue of the original exhibition (published by Starmach Gallery, Kraków 1998).
He created an almanac of the life and works of Tadeusz Kantor. He received the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Prize twice.
Józef Chrobak died of cancer in Kraków, on October 2nd 2015.
In the last days of October, in the Starmach Gallery, a farewell evening was organised. Chrobak's son, an academic, invited friends to listen to his father's favourite music and to talk about art.
Sources: cricoteka.pl, zacheta.art.pl, krakow.wyborcza.pl, own materials, author: Agnieszka Sural, 4.10.2015, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda 6.10.2015.