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The exhibition tells the story of a short, yet vivid existence of the first Krakow Group, of the life and works of colorful and outstanding youths, whose intertwined fates were part of the history of Polish avant-garde. Aleksander (Sasza) Blonder (pseudonym André Blondel), Blima (Berta) Grünberg, Maria Jarema, Franciszek Jaźwiecki, Leopold Lewicki, Adam Marczyński, Stanisław Osostowicz, Szymon Piasecki, Mojżesz Schwanenfeld, Bolesław Stawiński, Jonasz Stern, Eugeniusz Waniek, Henryk Wiciński, Aleksander Winnicki – these are the members of the first pre-war Krakow Group.
We represented provinces ‒ wild, hungry, fierce, not jaded by bourgeois manners, disconnected from Krakow’s Olympus.
Jonasz Stern, Grupa Krakowska, [in:] Cyganeria i polityka. Wspomnienia krakowskie 1919–1939, Czytelnik, Warszawa 1964, p. 227
The exhibition will feature nearly 300 works: drawings, graphics, sculptures and paintings – traditional painting genres, such as landscape and still life, as well as abstract paintings. There are a lot of works related to social issues, as well as stage and costume designs. These works show multiple interests and techniques of Krakow Group’s members. They show the stamp that the professors from the Academy of Fine Arts left on its members, the influence of Paris Committee artists, but most of all, the reception of avant-garde art.
They are referred to as “the last pre-war Polish avant-garde”. Uncompromising, full of passion and involvement. Subjective, radical and belligerent, but we have to remember that they generally saw the world through the eyes of young, naive people. They were convinced they could change reality. They were looking for better lives for themselves in a better, fairer world free of discrimination and divisions between the rich and the poor, giving everyone a chance to have a decent life in a world they wanted to create. The first Krakow Group grew from the rebellion against the existing social order, which was formed in a country reborn after World War I. The country united after 123 years of partition, exhilarated with regained independence, faced many problems, recreating its identity, giving some the opportunity to thrive, while pushing others into the abyss of poverty, impossible to escape from. In the 1930s that we are referring to, the enthusiastic attitude towards regained freedom was long gone. World economic crisis of the late 1920s struck Poland as well. The visible social gap between the wealth of a small number of citizens and the poverty of whole masses in towns and villages provoked a complete negation of the existing social order among many young people. That was not just negation, though, but also an attempt to conduct a constructive social revolution. The fight they undertook with juvenile vigor and exaltation was mainly a fight with the mechanisms and fixed ideals of the bourgeois world. They perceived the new social arrangement, based on the principles of communist classics (Marxists), as an opportunity for self-development and their constructive role. As far as the discussed group of artists is concerned, it is crucial that most of its members belonged to the Communist party, and their late 1920s appearance at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow caused a huge ferment, not only in terms of art.
All of them studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Leopold Lewicki was the first to join the school, in 1925, whereas Sasza Blonder was the last to do it, in 1931. During studies, they would get awards over and over, sometimes for paintings, other times for drawings or sculptures; but they all rebelled against academic art, against their professors’ art stemming from the Young Poland movement. The artistic rebellion was just one part of their revolutionary stand, the war on fascism and Sanation, mainly within the Communist Party of Poland, conducted despite a serious threat to their lives. As early as in 1930, when the group had merely started to form, Henryk Wiciński was accused and sentenced to one month of imprisonment for spreading communist leaflets in front of a wire factory. In 1931, students representing the National Democracy (ND) started to remove left-wing students from classes. A few incidents happened and what is characteristic is the fact that also those who defended themselves against the attack, including Lewicki, Wiciński, and Winnicki, were reprimanded by the rector. They referred to the concept of avant-garde art, and inter-war period critique indicated their relations with Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, Expressionism and – what is paradoxical from the modern point of view – directly with Impressionism. As always in such cases, we can say: it has all been before, there is nothing new. It seems that in this way the freshness and novelty of the works of Krakow Group’s artists were for a long time overlooked. True, the starting point for the Group’s artists was earlier avant-garde, they consciously continued this program, while moving forward at the same time. Maybe the one who saw it clearly was Leon Chwistek, sponsoring the Group since its beginning. However, it is interesting that in making these references, members of the Krakow Group were far from purity or doctrinaire. What is more, they were slightly eclectic, drawing freely from various programs. Similarly, they took a lot from the professors they fought with: Pautsch, and even Kamocki and Jarocki. However, what they learned at the Academy, fitted into the narrowest understanding of the skill, coming down almost to the way of applying paint. Their ideas, on the other hand, came from the avant-garde. It is interesting though, that as opposed to Warsaw and Łódź avant-garde, they were far from Bauhaus tradition, they were interested neither in the relationship between painting and architecture, nor in applied art, nor in organizing space around people through art. Maybe that was because doctrinaire and totalitarianism of solutions did not appeal to them at all. They treated their paintings and graphics as a weapon to fight within the sphere of consciousness.
Their art of that period testifies to juvenile vigor, to this internal tension difficult to describe and at the same time– as if in defiance – to unexpected mature technique. Their works are varied: the same artists, during the same period, show us lessons on Cubism, echoes of Constructivism and often prevailing Expressionism, as well as traces of Futurism and even certain influences of the Colourists, especially Waliszewski. At the same time, something new and more original was born. Jaremianka’s great sculptures, with interpenetrating planes, undertake the same problems that the artist dealt with in her series of bright paintings until her death. Sasza Blonder’s abstract paintings escaped the circle of geometric abstraction, not only due to their allusiveness – the departure from rigor, the masses pressing against each other and textural tensions show us the harbinger of what will appear in world art only after World War II. Jaremianka’s sculptures, Blonder’s paintings, some of Lewicki’s paintings, and even Ostrowicz’s expressive tension and entanglement of forms, are only a step away from the works of the second avant-garde, from non-geometric abstract art. However, there is a basic difference – particularly, the French Informalism had an air of certain sophisticated elegance that was absent in the raw, belligerent and drastic art of the first Krakow Group.
How differently would our art have evolved, if the first Krakow Group had continued their work? If Blonder, Wiciński, and Osostowicz – to name just the main representatives of the Group – had not met their tragic fate and the pre-war work of the whole Group had not been dispersed, or even lost during war...