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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » May 7, 2015
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The Pope of the Avant-Garde
May 7, 2015   
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A new exhibition at Warsaw’s National Museum traces the interrelations between early 20th century art and literature by focusing on the work of prominent Polish avant-garde poet, art critic and theoretician Tadeusz Peiper.

The exhibition, entitled The Pope of the Avant-Garde: Tadeusz Peiper in Spain, Poland, Europe, has been put together with art curators from Spain, where Peiper (1891-1969) lived and worked for several years in the early 20th century. The project aims to highlight artistic and cultural ties between the two countries.

In Poland, Peiper is known as a key figure of the Polish avant-garde and the founder of the influential Zwrotnica (Switch) journal (1922). Not many are aware of his ties to Spain and Spanish-speaking avant-garde artists. Peiper lived in the Spanish capital, Madrid, from 1915 to 1920, surrounded by an international crowd of artists and intellectuals associated with the so-called Ultraist movement. These included Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Guillermo de Torre, Vicente Huidobro, Rafael Barradas, Jorge Luis and Norah Borges. Two other Polish artists, Władysław Jahl and Marian Paszkiewicz, were also linked with the Ultraists and lived in Spain in those days.

While in Madrid, Peiper maintained contacts with Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, who greatly influenced the cultural and literary renaissance of Spain in the 20th century, and with Manuel Azana, a law student, journalist, and writer—figuring prominently in Ateneo, a Madrid literary club—who went on to become Spanish prime minister and president.

Peiper made his debut in Spain as an author of Spanish-language literary sketches and journalist with leading Spanish magazines such as El Sol, La Lectura, Espana and La Publicidad.

The exhibition takes the viewer to the cosmopolitan Madrid of 1915-1921 and to Poland’s Cracow, which was a major center of avant-garde art and literature in those days, nurturing movements such as Formism and Futurism. There are also references to the Paris of 1914, where Peiper also lived briefly, and to various artistic and cultural utopias in the Europe of the 1920s.

The exhibition explores Peiper’s artistic alliances and the outcomes of his liaisons with other outstanding avant-garde artists, such as Władysław Strzemiński and Kazimir Malevich, whose work was also published in Zwrotnica. Also featured are pieces by Juan Gris, Moise Kisling and Fernand Léger, who illustrated Peiper’s books and poems. Other exhibits include paintings, prints and sculptures by European avant-garde heavyweights including Francisco Bores, Albert Gleizes, Louis Marcoussis and Vytautas Kairiukstis. There are also pieces by Poland’s Leon Chwistek, Tytus Czyżewski and Tymon Niesiołowski.

The exhibition includes a presentation of avant-garde publications and films set to music by Spanish, French and Polish composers.

In all, the exhibition features more than 270 items, among them paintings, graphic pieces and publications from dozens of collections in Poland and abroad, including venues such as Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art in Madrid, Paris’s Centre Pompidou, and Kunsthalle Mannheim, a museum of modern art in Mannheim, Germany.

Polish public collections are represented by items from the national museums in Cracow, Poznań and Wrocław, and from ŁódĽ’s Art Museum and Warsaw’s Royal Castle. There are also many items from private collections.

Later this year the exhibition will travel to Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, a museum and art gallery in the heart of Madrid, where it will be displayed from Sept. 18 to Nov. 6.

Grzegorz Siwicki

The Pope of the Avant-Garde: Tadeusz Peiper in Spain, Poland, Europe
National Museum in Warsaw; May 28-Sept. 6
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