Maria Stangret was a painter, former actress of the Cricot 2 Theatre, and literary author. She was born on July 27, 1929, in Strzelce Wielkie near Kraków, died on 15 May 2020 in Warsaw.
Painter, former actress in the Cricot 2 Theatre, and literary author.
Between 1955 and 58, she studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków under Profs. Jan Świderski and Emil Krcha. In 1957, she began collaborating with the Cricot 2 Theatre; she participated in all of Tadeusz Kantor's performances and happenings. In 1959, she went on an artistic trip to Paris, where, in 1961, she got married to Kantor. She has been a member of the Grupa Krakowska (Kraków Group) Artistic Association since 1956 – she has taken part in all of its collective demonstrations. In 1962, she began writing her 'endless novel', which was published in 2002 by the Łódź-based Gallery 86, under the title Grandpa’s Diary (Pamiętnik Dziadka).
In 1983-1985, the House of Kantors in Hucisko (between Kraków and Wieliczka) was founded; after Kantor’s death in 1990, it was turned into a museum devoted to the legacy of both artists. In 1994 Maria Stangret-Kantor opened the Tadeusz Kantor Foundation. She cooperated with the Krzysztofory Gallery and Starmach Gallery (both based in Kraków) and with the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw.
She starred in many theatre acts realized by the Cricot 2 Theatre and Tadeusz Kantor: The Well, or the Depth of Thought (Studnia czyli głębia myśli – pantomime, 1956), In a Little Manor House (W małym dworku, 1961), The Madman and the Nun (Wariat i zakonnica, 1963), The Water Hen (Kurka wodna, 1967), The Shoemakers (Szewcy, 1972), Dandies and Frumps (Nadobnisie i koczkodany, 1972), The Dead Class (Umarła klasa, 1975), Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear (Gdzie są niegdysiejsze śniegi, 1978), Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), Let the Artists Die (Niech sczezną artyści, 1985). She also took part in all happenings by Tadeusz Kantor: Cricotage (1965), The Dividing Line (Linia podziału, 1966), La Grand Emballage (1966), The Letter (List, 1967), Panoramic Sea Happening (Panoramiczny happening morski, 1968), A Conversation with a Rhinoceros (Rozmowa z Nosorożcem, 1968), Hommage à Maria Jarema (1968), and An Anatomy Lesson after Rembrandt (Lekcja anatomii według Rembrandta, 1968, 1969, 1971).
Her works are included in the collections of the Art Museum in Łódź, National Museum in Kraków, National Museum in Wrocław, Foksal Gallery, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, as well as various private collections in Poland and abroad.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, while she was still studying at the Kraków Academy, Maria Stangret created paintings in the art informel style, which she used to call gestural paintings. She was introduced to the international avant-garde trends by Tadeusz Kantor, who returned from Paris in 1955, where he had been exposed to contemporary abstract art. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Stangret also went on an artistic expedition to France, where she encountered works by such artists as Dubuffet, Wols and Mathieu. Her first art show took place in 1963 at the Brinken Gallery in Stockholm. In 1965, she went abroad once again – this time to the United States (California and New York), where she became interested in Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, as well as the art of Dine, Segal, Oldenburg, and Rauschenberg.
Maria Stangret’s works from that period are characterized by their spontaneity and lightness of brush strokes, combined with a masterful handling of matter. Every now and then, the artist introduced collage into them, also in a way that escaped the two-dimensional surface of a painting – this tendency intensified later on in her practice.
Maria Stangret departed from the informel style in the mid-60s, with the painting series titled Continental Landscapes (Pejzażę kontynentalne). She simultaneously participated in the activities of the Cricot 2 Theatre, founded by Tadeusz Kantor and Maria Jarema. Moreover, she took part in small theatre plays which Kantor directed for Karbunkuł – the theatre of atrocities, run by Andrzej Bursa and Jan Guntner, and played the role of the Vaulter in Kazimierz Mikulski’s Circus, also directed by Kantor.
In 1962, she began writing her 'endless novel' – a literary piece with a collage-like structure, based on excerpts from old handbooks, fiction stories, and her own reports of unimportant, banal situations, all of which were pieced together in an automatic manner. She occasionally published fragments of those texts in her exhibition catalogues (e.g. Krzysztofory in 1965 or Foksal in 1967), however, the complete piece wasn’t published until 2002, under the title Grandpa's Diary (Pamiętnik Dziadka).
In the late ‘60s and during the ‘70s, Stangret began to paint in a minimalist style, relying on plain shapes and geometrical forms. She also introduced three-dimensional elements into her works, i.e. actual objects. This escape from 2D and the typical painting conventions resulted from her methods of combining painting with assemblage. In 1969, Maria Stangret produced a specific amalgamation of painting and nature – by painting over the trunks and branches of the trees in front of the Foksal Gallery with green paint, she created a 'real landscape painting'. She soon started creating conceptual compositions – paintings that were supplemented by objects connected directly to them. Her piece Sky with a Drainpipe (Niebo z rynną, 1970) was made out of a piece of canvas with the sky painted on it and a real drainpipe filled with grey or blue water (depending on the version), stuck under the fabric. Paintings representing chess boards (Chess I and Chess II / Szachy I, Szachy II) were paired with enlarged chess pieces, while others, with blackboards painted on them, were accompanied by boxes of white chalk (Blackboards/Tablice, 1974). Hopscotch (Gra w klasy, 1970) had an outline of the popular children’s game painted on a white background of the painting, which consisted of several elements and spread to the floor surface in a way that encouraged interaction. In these works, the artist was effacing the difference between the actual and representational status of an image of reality. At that time, she also started introducing the motif of a sheet of lined paper with red margin (Sheet from a Notebook / Kartka z zeszytu, 1970), which she elaborated in her future works.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s Stangret returned to nature as a source of inspiration. During that period, she created the series of paintings Birches (Brzozy), Windows (Okna), and Grains (Zboża). Canvases showing houses, trees and windy grain fields were presented together with real objects: dry leaves in a box and a soldier’s hat hung on a birch branch (Marshall’s Departure / Odejście Marszałka, 1991 – first version).
Another continuation of an earlier motif appearing in her works was manifested in subsequent versions of the Sheet from a Notebook, most frequently presented in a rolled-up form. The same theme appeared in her works from the Hommages cycle, a sort of an artist’s diary, revolving around the subject of memory and recollections. First, she created Hommage à Yesenin (1986/1994), soon afterwards Hommage à Anne Frank (1st version in 1990, 2nd version in 1999), then In the Memory of Doctors of 1953 (Pamięci lekarzy z 1953 roku – 1990, 1993), Hommage à Tadeusz Kantor (1992), and others.
The monumental work devoted to Anne Frank comprises five canvases joined together to form a frieze representing lined, blue-tinted sheets of paper, on which the artist painted a girl pedalling towards a Star of David. In Hommage à Tadeusz Kantor, the artist calligraphed a poem by Sergei Yesenin on a giant, yellowed piece of paper, as if torn out of a notebook, and combined it with an old tree trunk installed in the gallery space. In the second version of In the Memory of Doctors of 1953, a painting with a prison outline and a Star of David was placed next to a real tree stump covered in black paint.
At the end of the ‘90s, Maria Stangret made another return to the theme of notebook pages – this time they were stained and dirty, as if they lost their value. She used white paper – the same rolls that Tadeusz Kantor used before to make costumes for his play Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear. Looking at the Sheets from 1997-2004, one will notice an evident influence of the art informel period in her practice. She left on them marks of her emotions, accompanied by spontaneity and dynamic brush strokes.
In 2005, Starmach Gallery hosted Maria Stangret-Kantor’s installation Hommage à Daniil Lider, dedicated to a pre-eminent Ukrainian scenographer who died in 2002. She alluded to one of his realizations from the late ‘80s, in which the artist referenced the Chernobyl disaster, which caused the leaves on the trees in Kiev to turn yellow and fall as if it were early as in spring. The artist covered the gallery floor with a thick layer of dry leaves, among which she placed several dead tree stumps. On the walls hung partly burnt, ripped pages with a design outline and notes, as well as enlarged lined notebook pages.
Another project from the Hommages series was an installation devoted to Simone Weil. It included twelve paintings and six amber-coloured Perspex sheets, inside of which were embedded paper scraps with excerpts of the German thinker’s writings written on them. White, lined canvases were stained with blue and navy blue paint marks, resembling streaks of spilt ink. The Perspex plates preserved the remains of the invaluable thoughts and reflections of Simone Weil, behaving like a fossilized resin.
Her series of paintings from 2009 was titled Hommage à Wiesław Kielar – Anus mundi. In them, she referred to W. Kielar’s memoir from the Auschwitz camp, published in 1966. The cycle includes twelve paintings of different sizes, painted in blue and white, with a small addition of black. Only two of them are directly connected to the tragedy of Auschwitz: one of them shows the gate of the camp with the inscription Arbeit macht frei, while the other one features just the word Frei, vanishing in the blue of the sky.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 1963 - Galerie Brinken, Stockholm;
- 1965 - Krzysztofory Galler, Kraków;
- 1966 - Galerie Entracte, Lausanne;
- 1967 - Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden;
- 1967 - Continental Landscapes, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw;
- 1970 - Foksal Gallery, Warsaw;
- 1970 - Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1974 - Foksal Gallery, Warsaw;
- 1975 - Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1982 - Galerie de France, Paris;
- 1989 - Palace of Arts, Kraków;
- 1990 - Hommage À Anne Frank, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1993 - Informel 1959-1960, Starmach Gallery, Kraków;
- 1995 - Besides a Dead Tree Trunk / ...poza martwym pniem..., National Museum, Kraków;
- 1997 - Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw;
- 1999 - Starmach Gallery, Kraków;
- 2002 - Gallery 86, Łódź;
- 2002 - Foksal Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2003 - Sheets from a Painting Sketchbook / Kartki z zeszytu do malowania, Muzalewska Gallery, Poznań;
- 2004 - Pages Written with a Gesture / ...kartki zapisane gestem...", Wozownia Art Gallery, Toruń;
- 2005 - Hommage À Daniil Lider, Starmach Gallery, Kraków;
- 2007 - Hommage À Daniil Lider, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2007 - Hommage a Daniil Lider, Muzalewska Gallery, Poznań;
- 2008 - Hommage a Simone Weil, Starmach Gallery, Kraków;
- 2008 - Hommage a Simone Weil, Gallery86, Łódź;
- 2009 - Anus Mundi. Hommage a Wiesław Kielar, Stefan Szydłowski Gallery, Warsaw.
Selected group exhibitions:
- 1968 - Fri Polsk Konst, Sveagalleriet, Stockholm;
- 1970 - III Salon International de Galeries Pilotes, Lausanne; Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris;
- 1972 - Atelier 72, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh;
- 1977 - The Kraków Group Exhibition, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1978 - The Exhibition of the Painters of Cricot 2 Theatre, Palazzo delle Mostre, Rome, Palazzo Reale, Milan;
- 1983 - Presences Polonaises, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris;
- 1985 - The Kraków Group Collection, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1985 - Dialogue, Moderna Museet, Sztokholm;
- 1987 - The Kraków Group Exhibition, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1994 - The Kraków Group, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw;
- 1997 - Express Polonia, Mucsarnok, Budapest;
- 2000 - Women of Modern Art / Kobiety nowoczesności, Ego Gallery, Poznań.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, September 2007; update: November 2009. translated by: Ania Micińska, January 2015, updated May 2020