The Warsaw Voice » Culture » Monthly - August 28, 2015
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Art in Poland’s ‘Wild West’
A new exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw looks at the southwestern city of Wrocław and its complicated history through art created there over the past 50 years.

Entitled The Wild West: A History of Wrocław’s Avant-Garde, this comprehensive exhibition is a joint project by the Zachęta Gallery and the Wrocław Contemporary Museum. Comprising almost 500 items and featuring visual arts, architecture, urban planning, theater, film and design, the exhibition explores the artistic history of a city that will become a European Capital of Culture next year.

One of the largest cities in Poland, Wrocław is located in what Poles often refer to as the “Recovered Territories,” a region in the western part of the country that belonged to Germany before World War II. Following the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the region was incorporated into Poland and Polish settlers were brought there from other parts of the country. Wrocław, a city of almost a million inhabitants before the war, struggled for decades to recover from the ravages of the conflict. Mixing different cultures and migrant groups, this “Wild West” within a communist Poland offered a sense of freedom and independence to avant-garde artists.

Through art, The Wild West exhibition focuses on the city itself, a city full of tall Gothic church towers designed by German architects Max Berg, Hans Poelzig, Erich Mendelsohn and Hans Scharoun, a city into which Polish newcomers breathed new life.

The exhibition’s historical narrative begins in the early 1960s, when Wrocław became home to two visionaries: Jerzy Grotowski, the founder of the Laboratorium Theater, and Jerzy Ludwiński, the man behind the city’s pioneering Museum of Current Art and the Mona Lisa Gallery.

Wrocław saw the birth of Polish conceptual art and of the so-called concrete poetry movement. Wrocław-based artists have over the years included Jerzy Rosołowicz, Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, Jan Chwałczyk, Wanda Gołkowska, Natalia LL, Andrzej Lachowicz, Romuald and Anna Kutera. Local theaters staged experimental performances by Helmut Kajzar and Kazimierz Braun. In the 1970s, the Wrocław Museum of Architecture hosted exhibitions of utopian Terra projects by the likes of Arata Isozaki, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas, who have since become internationally celebrated architects.

The Higher School of Visual Arts in Wrocław produced the Wrocław School of poster design movement.

Film director Andrzej Wajda, who in 2000 won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, produced the classic Polish movie Ashes and Diamonds in Wrocław’s Feature Film Studios.

Until Sept. 13
Zachęta National Gallery of Art
3 Małachowskiego Sq., Warsaw