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“Marek Bartelik’s book on Early Polish Modern Art offers provocative insight into the development of modern art in the newly independent Poland after the First World War. Bartelik places the major modernist trends — Expressionists, Futurists, the Lodz Yiddish group, into the cultural and political context of Poland during the years in which the new republic redefined its identity. This eminently readable study covers ground heretofore little known outside Poland.”

Peter Selz

Professor Emeritus in Modern Art

University of California, Berkeley

“The years 1917-1923 saw the collapse of three multi-ethnic empires and the formation of a new state, poland. Bartelik uses this setting to explore the relations between modern art and cultural/political identities in post_versailles Poland. This is expertly handled and Bartelik has done a good deal of primary research that extends scholarship in the field.”

Anonymous reviewer for the Manchester University Press

“This a brilliant, synthetic and independent study of the beginning of the Polish vanguard. It is the outside look and the author keeps the distance. He presents the deep knowledge about facts and the vbackground. Mapping the political and cultural realities in the period 1917-1923, he brings out the facts passed by the art history. he points out separate movements by examining the links and mutual relations. the book opens new perspectives in the field of studies of Polish vanguard art.”

Joanna Sosnowska, Polish Institute of Art, Warsaw




Manchester University Press 2005 £60.00 (hb)

225pp 52 mono illus

ISBN 0-7190-6352-3


The cover price here is stiff enough to deter all but libraries and real enthusiasts, and it furnishes no colour illustrations apart from the striking one by Witkacy (Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz) on the dust jacket. This is a pity, because Marek Bartelik’s study of a short phase of Polish art in the early twentieth century offers a significant broadening of our understanding of European art in this period. Better-known German and Russian examples spring to mind, but here in an interesting new context. The art is explained with reference to the post-1918 establishment of the new Polish state and contemporary debates about national self-definition. Attention is given, for instance, to the two exhibitions of Polish art in Paris in 1918-19, to Poland’s participation in the Venice Biennale for the first time in 1920, and to a programme of recovering artworks – particular those with nationalist credentials – which had been taken by Austria and Russia during the partitions. There is also an opportunity for an historical and aesthetic analysis of the relationship of Polish modernism, folk art, Jewish art, and decorative art with developments in neighbouring post-revolutionary Russia and Germany and in the longstanding cultural partner for the Poles, France. Bartelik charts the conflicts with Russia and Germany that played a part in the establishment of a conservative, Catholic definition of Polishness from the early 1920s. Matters were not helped by the assassination in 1922 of the newly-elected president of the Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, by a disaffected conservative artist and critic, nor by Józef Piłsudski’s military coup in 1926. Bartelik notes with regret that this political direction put paid to an exciting variety of artistic innovation in Poland, which thrived upon the multiplicity of the book’s title.

The divided history of Poland before the First World War plays a part in Bartelik’s discussion of the regional art centres of Poland and their differing cultures. He concentrates on Lwów (Lvov/Lemberg/Lviv), Kraków (Krakau), Poznań (Posen), Łódź and Warsaw. In each case the particular admixture of populations – Polish, German, Ukrainian and others, with the additional Jewish dimension – made for exciting art, and also for debates about Polish identity within modernism. Even before the War, cultural boundaries were fluid. The first expressionist exhibition in ‘Poland’ was held in present-day Ukrainian Lvov/Lviv; it was organised by the German-Jewish Herwarth Walden from Berlin; and it included the Munich-based Russians, Kandinsky and Jawlensky. The Lvov initiative was later followed by developments in Kraków, where the self-styled Polish Expressionists exhibited in November 1917 and where from July 1918 the so-called Formists held sway. The Formists are the first of the four groups which are the subject of Bartelik’s study, followed by the Poznań Expressionists, the Young Yiddish group of Łódź, and the Polish Futurists of Kraków and Warsaw. Each receives thorough treatment, exploring their connections with wider European artistic developments. One could not ask for a better introduction to this generally unfamiliar territory.

The theoretical debates amongst the Formists, particularly between rivals Witkacy and Leon Chwistek, make for perplexing reading, but this is not Bartelik’s fault. Witkacy’s diagram from his 1932 book On Pure Form is not much assistance; it looks like an ice-cream cone. Part of the disagreement was indeed about the ‘pure form’ (not necessarily abstraction) favoured by Witkacy and the greater connection with reality sought by Chwistek. Although there were obviously similarities between the work of the Formists and those of the German Expressionists – particularly the Blauer Reiter – the Formists dissociated themselves from these contemporaries, partly because they were German (or Russian) and partly because new German art after the War was regarded as too radical politically for Polish purposes. Instead, the Formists explored the way in which folk art could be integrated into modernism, and directed their attention more to art in France. Unfortunately, the Formist section at the ‘Jeune Pologne’ exhibition in Paris in 1922 did not find favour, and the movement declined thereafter.

The Poznań case is interesting, because the shift from German to Polish control in 1918 saw a revitalisation of Expressionism, now however with a predominantly Polish character. There are many similarities between the Poznań works and earlier ones from Dresden, particularly the dramatic, angular woodcuts and linocuts. The ‘Bunt’ exhibition of 1918, advertised in both German and Polish, opened before the end of the War and set the scene for political and aesthetic radicalism. ‘Bunt’ had an appropriate meaning in each language: ‘colourful’ and ‘revolt’ respectively. However, the early 1920s – witnessing war with Bolshevik Russia and skirmishes with German nationalists in Upper Silesia – were not a time for Polish artists to be publicly associated with the leftist radicalism of their neighbours.

The ‘Spring Show’ in Łódź in 1918 was not a specifically Jewish exhibition, although the predominance of Jewish artists came to characterise developments in the city. In 1919 the review Yung-Yidish appeared in Yiddish, with a cover linocut by Jankel Adler. Partly because of his subsequent career in Germany, France and Britain, Adler is probably the best known of the Young Yiddish group, but Bartelik does great service in introducing a range of other artists and writers, including Marek Szwarc, Vincent Brauner, Moshe Broderzon and Itzhak Katzenelson. It is also striking that a number of women artists were active in this circle, notably Dina Matus, Pola Lindenfeld and Ida Brauner. Many of the Young Yiddish works dealt with Jewish and early Christian themes and motifs, often in linocut and with certain similarities with the work, say, of Ludwig Meidner in Berlin. One is also frequently reminded of Marc Chagall. Henryk Berlewi, based in Warsaw, was an active promoter of Jewish art in Poland. His own work witnessed a shift from figurative illustration of Jewish themes to what he called ‘Mechano-Faktura’ abstraction. This is reminiscent of Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus. Polish Futurism, based primarily in Warsaw and Kraków, came a long while after its Italian exemplar and was not directly comparable. As its name suggests, it turned its attention to modern mass society. Its Dada-like activities included dramatic and musical performances, visual exhibitions, the declamation of poetry, and modern design. The energy of this and the other modern movements in Poland soon, however, provoked hostile reaction. A flavour of the vitriol is to be found in a conservative newspaper column from 1923, quoted by Bartelik: ‘A defence against Germans flooding in from the West, Russians from the East, and international Jewry, which put itself in the middle and bridged the two floods, is our most important national and nationalistic task.’

The fifty monochrome illustrations in Bartelik’s volume are well integrated into the arguments, and there is a very helpful biographical section devoted to most of the artists mentioned. Those seeking colour versions of the often strikingly colourful images can find some of them in Andrzej K. Olszewski’s Polish Art and Architecture 1890-1980 (Warsaw, 1989), though of the Jewish artists, only Jankel Adler and Henryk Berlewi are mentioned there. Alternatively, typing the names of the artists into an internet search engine will summon a wide range of material to supplement this excellent book.


Cardiff University

For the record: there were several other reviews of my book (by Bozena Shallcross in The Polish Review and Lidia Gluchowska in Centropa. Both of them are not worth my attention.


dsc04309a1From POZA: On the Polishness of Contemporary Polish Art (New Haven, CT: Real Art Ways, 2008)

A response to questions raised during a conversation between Marek Bartelik and Krzysztof Wodiczko in New York City, early December 2006.

Marek Bartelik: Which places do you see as being beyond or “poza” (as we have the word in this exhibition title) and how do they appear in your biography and your work? How does they fit into your Polish-ness?

Krzysztof Wodiczko: Are we really going to switch to English? All our conversation so far has been in Polish, And I began to formulate my thoughts on our topic ‘Poza’ (now, again ‘Beyond’) — in Polish.

Now that we have switched to Polish, I need to look for English words and expressions, and they no longer seem to fit my ideas. This de-stabilizes me and requires me to rethink them, to question even the questions I have already formulated in Polish. I think that in this transitional and transitory moment I am now inside our topic. A frightening thing to be in, but at the same time it feels strangely familiar to be there; it’s like home to me. Am I now and again ‘poza’, beyond my own ’70s Warsaw Polish, in which I was speaking a moment ago, or am I beyond my almost-American, New York English, or with my Polish-American and American-Polish ‘accents’ –– am I in both Pozas and Beyonds? Am I then in a zone beyond and at the same time in-between them, the zone beyond the language of customary cultural identities and social categories? Is this then the meaning of our title, a U-topia, a topos as a ‘no-place’, or a ‘good place’ called ‘Poza’? Is this a place of the future, or is it the place already here, now?

Is ‘Poza’ then a lost land, or the utopia of a promised land, away from and beyond the strict territory of that which is ‘clear’, ‘stable’, preconceived, and with a singular meaning? Is this thing we call ‘Beyond’ located beyond the prison-house of every easily identifiable ‘ethnic’, sexual, or professional’ state, or a national, regional, geographic, or any other ‘identity,’ community or commonality, a fixed ‘pièce d’identité’, as they call ‘I.D.’ in French?

Is this the place where I would like to be, the only possible home where I would agree to move and dwell?

Is this understanding of ‘Poza’ one might see, imagine or hope (for oneself and others) –– a psychic, intellectual cultural, and political space, a philosophical and ‘existential land’ called ‘Beyond’?

It is very possible that during all these years of migration, consciously, or semi-consciously, I have been trying to immigrate to such a place, to this ‘Poza’, and, strange to say, finally settle down in it.

Without admitting it to myself, I may be already in this place, a somewhat disappointing fact but a consequential and demanding, even visionary state of being, and a place for working and living, called New York City.

M.B.: What is ‘Polish’ in you? Could you verbalize ‘This is what is Polish in me’? A few weeks ago, I got this e-mail, and then an article, from a  young woman from Hartford who attended the conference that accompanied Poza, on the issue of Polish identity. She noticed that all the participants spoke about how they thought their work was international, and more than just specifically Polish. She told me she was first-generation American and her parents Polish. ‘All my life I have been trying to be more Polish than I am, searching for my Polishness.’ Is she is searching for a mirage?

K.W: When I hear someone call me ‘Polish,’ I am in fear of being displaced, evicted, ‘ex-missioned,’ as we say in Polish, (eksmisja, ‘eviction’) from my own very special home, still under construction but nonetheless already a home, a home for myself and for all my displacements. I feel evicted from a relatively safe, if in some ways not always stable place, a place for all my own instabilities, for the multiplicity of my identities, identities that do not always want to agree with each other, that like to quarrel, with identities that keep arguing in the continuing process of generating and refining their disagreements. When I am called ‘Polish’ I feel as if I am about to be deported to my old country, or, worse — to Poland, the stereotype, and cliché, to which that person wishes me to belong. The mirage? In fact I am beginning to feel a bit the same when I am called ‘American’, ‘Canadian’, or, even when one intentionally or not touches on the nostalgic site of myself­­ by calling me ‘Jewish’.

When, however, I call myself ‘Polish’, it is a very different matter. I feel in that case free to try to provide my own, however convoluted and unstable, definition of Polish-ness, to issue myself my own passport, through my own immigration office, a passport with  my own intellectual, artistic, social, historical, geographic, ethnic singular- or multiple-entry and exit ‘visas’, stamped with my own temporary and permanent  ‘residence permits’my own carte de séjourcarte de travail, J-1 (cultural-exchange visitor), B-1 (business visitor), H-1 (temporary worker), and finally the Landed Immigrant (Canada) or Resident Alien Status (the American Green Card).

M.B.: What about your Polish upbringing?

K.W: Polish-ness means for me the upbringing by my father, an agnostic Protestant, a musician of Czech origin (and education), a conductor and composer, a director of operas and orchestras, a musician devoted to educating and attracting large, especially younger, audiences, to contemporary and avant-garde music and opera, and an artist of great social vision and patriotic mission, and, without admitting it, truly socialist mind. The mode of my Polish-ness also owes a great deal to my mother, a agnostic, assimilated Jew, a pianist, microbiologist, philosopher, and person devoted to her work as a music editor for Polish Television Broadcast, an artist who believed in the enlightening role of mass media, a musician of great social and patriotic commitment. In short, my Polish-ness is born of the passionate ways of my Jewish mother’s assimilation, and her artistic faith in mass communications, and of the determined ways of my father’s secular Protestant work ethic, and of his commitment to the realization of his socio-esthetic vision. My own version of Polish-ness was also a response to the context of art and politics in the ’70s, the time of late ‘Communism’ in Poland (the state socialism of the Gierek regime), including my experience as an actor in a political student cabaret (the Kabaret Stodola in Warsaw). There was also my work as an industrial designer inside the Polish industrial system (especially at the Polish Optical Works in Warsaw), my simultaneous active membership in the avant-garde artistic circles of the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw and the Gallery Akumulatory in Poznan. One significant relationship was with Marxism-minded art critic and avant-garde art historian Andrzej Turowski (‘conversations about essentials’). as well as ongoing arguments with many other critical intellectuals and artists.

My changing sense of Polish-ness, also owes a great deal to my early theoretical and existential encounters with feminism and with Polish-Jewish history (especially in the period after the Second World War) while visiting in the US in 1975. This challenge continued in similar fashion, or even more so, later in the ’70 s and early ’80s, when I was residing in Canada. ­In this respect I value very highly my Canadian experience, with studies in social and political theory, the Marxist philosophical tradition and discussions and teaching in cultural and media studies circles in Toronto, Trent, and finally in Halifax (where my Public Projections began). It was at then that my Polishness underwent a powerful critical test and radical transformation. In sum, my Polish-ness means a 30-year process of transporting, extrapolating challenging, and transforming all my early artistic and design experience from Poland into my immigrant work as an artist and art educator -— a work and a life in Canada, Australia, France and United States, and now back in the new, post-Communist Poland, where I frequently produce and show my work.

My experience of emigrating from Poland was and still is in many ways interconnected with my theoretical and artistic work in and around issues of displacement, otherness, memory, trauma, identity, public space, media, communications technologies, and design and democracy, and was informed by deconstructive and post-deconstructive theory and the related esthetic and cultural practice of my fellow artists and intellectuals.

My Polish-ness also developed in the ways I needed to challenge, and ‘deconstruct’, my own nationalistic tendencies so deeply rooted in Polish culture. The avant-garde internationalist spirit and sentiment, which, since my Foksal and Akumulatory years, have been circulating in my veins, and my continuing migration, were of course helpful in this process.

Speaking here for myself, but I suspect also for many other fellow immigrants (and I hope non-emigrants as well), I needed to ‘undo’ all those unfortunate vestiges of ‘historical’ chauvinist ideologies inhabiting my cultural unconsciousness: Polish feudalistic and hierarchic social snobbery, Polish anti-German-ness, anti-Jewish-ness, anti-Ukrainian-ness, anti-Russian-ness, anti-Czech-ness, anti-Gypsy-ness, anti-peasant-ness — all sorts of anti-Other-ness, and, yes, the one that is the most difficult to ‘deconstruct’ — Polish anti-Polish-ness.

I feel now that in the context of those feudal and nationalistic vestiges still remaining in us, and in Poland, it is an obligation to be ‘Poza’ and ‘Beyond’. For me, the only intelligent way to be Polish is to do so in a deconstructive way, in the sense of undoing oneself, refusing the way one has been made ‘Polish’, questioning and radically transforming the ‘Polish’ way in which one was culturally ‘brought up,’ and conditioned to became  ‘Polish.’

This way of Polish-ness is of course a great opportunity, and a relatively easy task for those who emigrated, who are properly from Poland, but those who live in Poland should also enlist in such a deconstructive project, and many already do so… Even if it is more difficult for them than for us emigrants, they too, should live and work inside Poland as if they were poza. This is also an occasion for a great contribution to democracy in Poland and elsewhere, whereever each of us may live.

The migration to the land of ‘Poza’ is probably quite evident in my most recent project in Poland, the public projection onto the façade of the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in November of 2005.

Thinking optimistically and pro-actively, the process of trying to reach the state of being and becoming called Poza and Beyond means challenging one’s own incapacitation and the lack of confidence in one’s own capacities to make a change for the better.

It means making oneself publicly visible. It means ending one’s life as a person outside of society (in Polish ‘poza’ can be understood here not only as ‘beyond ‘ but ‘outside.’ It means taking a step outside the conditions that force us to act as outsiders, as alienated, marginalized, socially and culturally and economically estranged. It means  inserting oneself back into the democratic process, in order to become a major political and cultural actor (and agent) for change, mentally, culturally, and politically acting on the larger stage of public space.

It often means taking action, the action of telling the story, giving public testimony, organizing others, becoming an agent, even an agency, of social change.

The task of the Warsaw Projection was to provide safe and patient conditions for the development of a public speech-act, for the social animation of public space. This task was assigned to those women acting as speaking caryatids, to the building façade itself, to myself, and to the numerous members of the social and technical production team.

Among the most indispensable people in this project was Ms. Lidia Ostalowska a great, socially committed writer and trusted social investigator. Without her skills and political passion the project would not have been possible.

In this projection the façade animators, the co-artists in this project, represented two generations of women from small Polish cities and from Warsaw itself. They have suffered and survived domestic abuse and violence. Some of them themselves committed violence against their male domestic partners and their own children. Some who were still in early stages of recovery from their trauma, and others, now well recovered, and who seemed to enjoy a healthy, even humorous distance to their traumatic past, all became passionate honest, politically critical and savvy, public speakers in this project.

The participants in my Warsaw Projection have become scriptwriters, social activists, actors, storytellers, and crown witnesses to injustice, survivors who can publicly testify to it.

They became doctors in healing their own silence and dumbness, and doctors in healing public social and cultural numbness and, finally, media artists, skillful artists of gesture and speech-animation of architectural monuments.

Who was I in this project? Social activist, social worker, psychotherapist, media artist?

Whose art was this projection? Theirs or mine?

These and other questions were poza –– beyond their own right and capacity to be asked, even formulated.

This was a third zone of experience, a potential space, a ‘transitional phenomenon,’ a necessary space for the development of participants’ capacity to act and open up in public, speak out in the open, to learn to do so on their own. It was as well as a space for the public to come closer and open up their ears, minds, and hearts and listen.

Was this projection a work of ‘Polish’ art (taking or not taking into account all the considerations we have previously mentioned?

Was this a work of ‘American’ art (art of the First Amendment to the Constitution, an art of communicative rights, the most basic political and human right in the U. S.)?

Was this perhaps a work of a ‘Canadian’ art (an art that understands the fundamental cultural importance of public media and communications from and in Canada, where my Public Projections began)?

Was this, perhaps, a work of a ‘Jewish’ kind (art for, of, and by oppressed marginalized minorities, a diasporic, prophetic art of memory and trauma, art of and in wandering and displacement)?

Are these the ways of my Polish-ness, my American-ness, Canadian-ness, and my Jewish-ness…?

My own ways of being Poza and the ways of being Beyond?

Acting as impatient caryatides in revolt, the women participating in the Warsaw Projection turned themselves into ‘speaking monuments to their own trauma.’ They turned a prominent Warsaw civic landmark into a monument speaking to social injustice, and to the unacceptable social, political and mental conditions of their lives, into a monument to the unacceptable world of Poland, a world in which they live and one they denounce, a world that needs to be radically changed for  better…

…a world ‘Poza’ and Beyond.

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