"The Colors of Identity: Polish Art at Home and Abroad, 1890-1939". Featuring over 60 paintings, sculptures, and drawings - all drawn from the private collection of Tom Podl, an American of immigrant Polish descent - the exhibition reflects the remarkable diversity of Polish modern art created between 1890 and 1939.
By 1890, a century of occupation and several failed uprisings had impacted Polish culture profoundly and engendered a broad search for a national identity in the arts. Driven by the Mloda Polska (Young Poland) movement, Polish art, literature, architecture, and music flourished even as the country remained partitioned under the foreign rule of Russia, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In subsequent decades, Polish artists working at home and abroad engaged in a lively international exchange that resulted in a Polish modern art movement that was remarkably diverse.
This exhibition - featuring over 60 paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the private collection of Tom Podl, an American of immigrant Polish descent - reflects the remarkable diversity of Polish modern art created between 1890 and 1939. It also demonstrates how the visual arts served as a focused response to the period's divisive geopolitics and, in the two decades after independence was achieved in 1918, contributed to the cultural identity of a sovereign Poland.
The quality and comprehensiveness of the material was recognized in 2001, when the the Tom Podl collection in its entirety was exhibited at the National Museum in Krakow
before embarking on a seven-city tour in Poland. The full collection is represented in the catalogue Colors of Identity: Polish Art from the American Collection of Tom Podl, produced by the National Museum in Kraków (2001), available in conjunction with the exhibition at the Smart Museum.
The Colors of Identity: Polish Art at Home and Abroad, 1890-1939 is curated by Warsaw-based art historian Artur Tanikowski and Anna Krol, Curator at the National Museum in Krakow, in consultation with Richard A. Born, Senior Curator at the Smart Museum.
Related events, among others:
On the exhibition:
- Sunday, July 16, 2006: 1–4 pm - Family Day
- Sunday, September 17, 2006: 2 pm - Curator Tour: final tour of The Colors of Identity with Smart Museum Senior Curator Richard A. Born.
In the fifty years encompassed by The Colors of Identity - a period that begins with foreign partition, marks national independence in 1918, and ends in occupation at the onset of World War II - Polish artists worked in a variety of modern styles. Inspired by encounters with foreign art practices, their work responded to the Symbolism and Synthetism of the 1890s, the Cubism of the teens, and the Neo-Classicism of the 1920s. Though disparate in the styles they practiced, they united in the pursuit to create a modern art imbued with a Polish consciousness. The Colors of Identity traces the complex expression of national identity and international perspective that defines this critical period in Polish modern art.
In the last twenty years, several exhibitions in the United States have examined early Polish modern art, but The Colors of Identity is the first to explore two of Poland's most significant artistic contributions to modernism, through which successive generations of Polish artists took their place among the European avant garde: the Young Poland movement and the work of Polish artists belonging to the influential School of Paris, a group of mainly foreign artists based in Montparnasse.
At Home and Abroad
During the late nineteenth century, Polish artists commonly traveled and studied abroad, gravitating to Europe's artistic capitals. Many enjoyed considerable success. For example, in late 1875 Józef Chelmonski
left Warsaw for Paris, where he established a successful studio specializing in naturalist landscapes and genre scenes of Polish regions. In 1882, Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz left Warsaw to study at the Académie Julian in Paris and quickly established a reputation as the first notable female portrait painter from Poland. By 1900, the number of Polish artists working abroad had risen sharply. They developed important relationships with foreign modern masters and helped spark lively international exchange. While some eventually returned to their native country, others settled permanently abroad but maintained connections with artistic activities in Poland.
Young Poland, Sztuka, and Aesthetic Diversity
More than simply an artistic phenomenon, the Young Poland movement at the end of the nineteenth century led to a broad search for national identity at a time when the Polish state existed only in the memories and aspirations of its people. Arguing that the best way to serve the nation was to create works of art that could compete on an international level, Young Poland's members advocated for a progressive, modern visual style. In 1897, the Society of Polish Artists – also known as Sztuka (Art) - established an exhibiting association based in Krakow that attracted talented artists from across partitioned Poland and became the strongest artistic force in Polish art circles until World War I. Sztuka organized group exhibitions of its members across Europe as well as in the great World Expositions.
In pursuing the common goal of a modern style imbued with a Polish consciousness, the work of Young Poland advocates, Sztuka members, and other artists working in Poland and abroad reflected a wide range of influences. Turn-of-the-century Polish Symbolism was an especially vital aesthetic trend among Polish artists working both inside and outside Polish territories. German and Scandinavian Expressionism also influenced leading Polish artists, drawing them away from realist modes and historical or literary themes and toward formalist principles and more subjective themes. French Impressionism and the Post-Impressionist work of Paul Gauguin and others also attracted young Polish artists who were coming of age in the first decade of the twentieth century. Artists presented in this first main section include: Boleslaw Biegas, Wlodzimierz Blocki, Olga Boznanska
, Stefan Filipkiewicz, Gustaw Gwozdecki, Jacek Malczewski
, Mela Muter
, Kazimierz Sichulski, Witold Wojtkiewicz
, Eugeniusz Zak
, and Franciszek Zmurko.
The School of Paris
This second main section presents the work of Polish artists who traveled to France and became part of the influential School of Paris, a group of mostly foreign artists based in Montparnasse. These artists enjoyed particular success and helped define Paris as the art capital of the West during the period, offering fresh interpretations of Cubism, Expressionism, and the neo-classical tendencies found in Western European art during the late teens and the 1920s. Importantly, many of the central Polish members of the School of Paris were from Jewish backgrounds. While often fully integrated into mainstream European society, they at times moved beyond the more formalist concerns of Cubism or the inner psychologies of Expressionism as they explored the rich cultural legacies of their heritage and homeland. Artists presented in this section include Henryk Epstein, Alicja Halicka, Simon Mondzain, and Mela Muter
Polish Modernism: 1918-1939
The establishment of Polish independence in 1918 transformed the need for national self-definition. Although during the next two decades Sztuka and School of Paris artists contributed significantly to the development of the newly sovereign Poland's cultural identity, Polish art was shifting. With independence, many Polish artists sensed an easing of their previously politicized role as preservers of the national culture. Aesthetic styles that adapted rural Polish imagery and folkloric traditions were increasingly favored and the broad sociopolitical and economic issues of the period were increasingly eclipsed. Often, the representational and abstract styles that Polish artists developed in the 1920s and '30s fell outside the officially sanctioned modernism promoted by the new Polish state.
Many artists working in these styles were eventually deemed too international - or insufficiently nationalist - to further the aims of an independent Polish state. This concluding section explores the progression of modernist tendencies in sovereign Poland with works by Boleslaw Biegas, Leopold Gottlieb, Gustaw Gwozdecki, Eugeniusz Eibisch, Stanislaw Eleszkiewicz, Henryk Epstein, Henryk Hayden, Roman Kramsztyk
, Zygmunt Landau, Tadeusz Makowski
, Zygmunt Menkes
, Mela Muter
, Józef Pankiewicz
, Joachim Weingart, and Eugeniusz Zak