#photography & visual arts
The exhibition features more than sixty works from the mid-1940s to the end of the 1980s. Documentary happening photography by Eustachy Kossakowski will be exhibited for the first time. Furthermore, a selection of films such as <b>The Dead Class</b>, his most renowned theatre piece of the 1970s, and <b>Wielopole, Wielopole</b> will be on show.
"Tadeusz Kantor (born 1915 in Wielopole Skrzyńskie, died 1990 in Krakow) is regarded as one of the most significant Polish artists of the 20th century. Alongside his work as a visual artist he was also a theatre reformer influenced by avant-garde artists Antonin Artaud and Alfred Jarry, and also attracted by the Bauhaus theatre. Kantor was particularly interested in breaking the illusion created by classical theatre, and used alienation or defamiliarisation techniques revealing the artificiality of classical stage production, thus forcing an opening through to real life. Kantor was among those artists of the 20th century who proclaimed and practiced a concept of art transgressing all its boundaries. The artist attained world renown in the 1970s with the travelling theatre group Cricot, which he established in the mid-1950s.
In place of a classical retrospective, structured according to periods and categories, the exhibition in the Migros Museum Für Gegenwartskunst is informed by a free scenic character, which attempts to exhibit Kantor's works as a Gesamtkunstwerk. This concept held true for Kantor throughout his life. The focal point is the investigation of the performative, and the crossover between theatre and the visual arts. The exhibition offers, for the first time in Switzerland, a comprehensive overview of Kantor's versatility - from his theatre productions and actions to his painterly and sculptural works. Alongside films, drawings, paintings and theatre sculptures, the 'happening photography' of Eustachy Kossakowski (1925-2001), who documented Kantor's artistic output for decades, will be exhibited for the first time. Simultaneously the exhibition is a continuation of the content-discursive debate on current artistic interests in combination with and overlapping with theatrical performative approaches in contemporary art, which has been investigated in numerous previous exhibition projects.
Before Kantor became known as a theatre director in the 1970s he had already been active, following his studies in the 1930s at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, as a visual artist, theatre director, stage designer and art and theatre theoretician. In his student years the publication Die Bühne im Bauhaus (The Stage in the Bauhaus) (1925) by Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy and Farkas Molnar had exercised a great influence over him and sparked his interests in constructivist theatre. The ideas of abstraction and the nature of the construction of a theatre production were reflected in his work over decades - based on Schlemmer's notion that the person on the stage should become a Kunstfigur (art figure). Just like Schlemmer, Kantor made a link between his theatre and the characters of carnival theatre and the circus, considering them to be models. This is most obviously reflected in Kantor's later decision to form a travelling theatre group going by the name Cricot (from 1956), in which he himself was always present on stage 'in persona'. The works combining pictorial art and theatre work, whether stage design or stage sets arranged according to visual criteria, and their art definition - wherein they exhibit as a fundamental constant the purposelessness and absence of intentionality of this form of theatre in the sense of 'autonomy' - conjoin Kantor and Schlemmer.
In 1937-1938 Kantor began his first theatre production phase under the title Ephemeral Marionette Theatre. This constructivist puppet theatre stood within the tradition of the Szopka, miniature nativity plays, particularly widespread in Eastern Europe. During this time, Kantor staged Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist sketch The death of Tintagiles using puppets. Today only a few of the creations and newspaper reports of its staging remain, rendering a precise reconstruction impossible. Puppets and marionettes continually surface in Kantor's productions - whether in his most well known piece The Dead Class (1975), which began the phase of production that brought forth the Theatre of the Dead, or later in Cricotage Love and Death Machine (1987), in which he further strengthened his early constructivist approach. By using puppets or marionettes Kantor dispensed with the individual and presented an emptied, de-psychologised body in the foreground in which, however, all archetypal traits of human existence could be manifested. In the Theater des Todes Kantor's fascination with death permeated the content ever more insistently, including a shocking envisioning of his own death. The central image and metaphor in the staging of The Dead Class is the view through a window into an old school classroom - through which memories enter and exit. The staging can be described as a combination of play, happening with biographical references and installative sculpture. Kantor - in person on the stage rather like a master of ceremonies - evoked a combination of personal childhood memories, which broadened in an anthropological direction, incorporating the shocking events of the 20th century such as the Holocaust or the two World Wars.
Kantor was also active from the beginning of his artistic career as a visual artist. He initially drew more attention with his painting than with his work in the theatre. While he was still painting in a 'kubisierenden Realismus' (cubist realist) style in the mid-1940s, he founded the Krakow Group, also known as the Krakow Group 2 in the mid-1950s, whose members adhered to an informal painting style. In 1959 Kantor was invited to documenta 2 – he was also invited to documenta 6 in 1977. In 1964 Kantor penned his Manifest d'emballages in Theodor Ahrenberg's Atelier Le Rocher in Chexbres, near Vevey, where he was to stay frequently over longer periods. A body of works from the Ahrenberg collection will be displayed for the first time in the exhibition. In his Emballages, performative envelopings of bodies, happenings and performances link his work to the avant-garde European happening culture. The Emballages, not only translate into envelopings but also into packaging, and are used by Kantor as a motif in his theatre productions such as The Water Hen (1967), in which the stage space is determined by utensils for safe-keeping and storage, such as suitcases, rucksacks or coats with many pockets. The objects can be read as an act of insulation, conservation, the protection of the inner world, as a play on packing and unpacking. Thus the objects and things that Kantor assembles on the stage and also those he used before his happening period, cannot be described in the traditional sense of props, but are constituted instead as sculptural performative objects, which are placed on a par with the actors within the stage production.
The exhibition features more than sixty works from the mid-1940s to the end of the 1980s. Documentary happening photography by Eustachy Kossakowski will be exhibited for the first time. Furthermore, a selection of films such as The Dead Class (1975, director: Andrzej Wajda), his most renowned theatre piece of the 1970s, and Wielopole, Wielopole (1980, director: Andrzej Sapija) will be on show. Together with various theatre sculptures - such as the works Macchina dell'amore e della morte (1987) or Children at their desks from The Dead Class, (1989) - they form a dense overall installation. Other parts of the exhibition include drawings, paintings, collages and private archive material from the Ahrenberg collection."
Kindly supported by the Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor CRICOTEKA, Krakow. www.cricoteka.com.pl/en/
30th August – 16th November 2008
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst