The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb
THE WILD WEST. A HISTORY OF WROCLAW’S AVANT-GARDE
Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, 16 June – 15 August, 2016
Wroclaw — a city in the Recovered Territories, which before the second world war had nearly one million inhabitants, for decades could not be rebuilt after being destroyed in the Siege of Breslau. It was in this fascinating “Wild West”, situated on the edge of a communist country at the intersection of different cultures, where local artists created their own original microcosm in the spirit of freedom and independence. They conducted bold experiments and established international cooperation with partners from both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The exhibition presents artworks, films, documentary photographs, objects and audio recordings from the fields of the visual arts, architecture, urban planning, theatre, film, design, and everyday life in Wroclaw from the 1960s through today. Its historical narrative begins in the mid-1960s when two great artists-visionaries settled down in the city: the founder of the Laboratory Theatre Jerzy Grotowski, and Jerzy Ludwinski, the author of the pioneering concept of the Museum of Current Art in Wroclaw and founder of the Mona Lisa Gallery. Until the end of the 1970s, Wroclaw was the capital of the Polish neo-avant-garde, and in the following decade – the martial law era – one of the main centres of counterculture and anti-system art. Today’s notion of Wroclaw as an open city – a “meeting place” – owes a lot to those experiences, which included international encounters during the successive editions of the Jazz on the Oder Festival, the Kalambur Theatre’s Open Theatre Festival, or the workshops organised by the Laboratory Theatre. In the 1980s, this legacy was enriched by the practice of the Orange Alternative, the music performances of Kormorany, and the happenings of the Luxus collective.
The exhibition consists of the following parts: Jerzy Ludwinski (critic and art theorist, founder of the Mona Lisa Gallery and co-organiser the Wroclaw ’70 Visual Arts Symposium); Wroclaw ’70 Visual Arts Symposium (the most important manifestation of conceptual art in Poland); Wroclaw – an open city (collaborations with other artists and various hosting); Theatre and performing arts (theatre experiments and festivals); Women’s Art exhibition, 1978, Jatki Gallery, Wroclaw (the first feminist exhibition in Poland); The images of Wroclaw – FEATURE FILMS STUDIO IN WROCLAW (cult films from the so called Polish school); Dissidence in Wroclaw in the 1980s (period of critical circumstances in the country); The new media in Wroclaw (photography and video); Zgorzelec Open-air Festival (early emphasis on environmental topics), Concrete poetry and in the end the historical and the contemporary context of the city and the activities of its artists.
Wroclaw and the “Recovered Territories”
A wide swath of formerly German territories – the so-called Northern and Western Lands – was given to Poland after WW2 under the Potsdam Conference agreements in recompense for the eastern provinces lost by Poland to the Soviet Union. What followed was a complete exchange of population: Poles were resettled to the so-called Recovered Territories, while the former German inhabitants were forced to relocate to the occupied zones in Germany. This unprecedented experiment in social engineering carried far-reaching consequences for the now-Polish history of Masuria, Western Pomerania, Lubusz Land and Lower Silesia. Seventy percent of the urban tissue of Wroclaw (pre-war Breslau), the largest city in the newly acquired territories, was destroyed during the Siege of Festung Breslau. In spite of the communist propaganda slogans (“we were, we are, we will be”, “every stone in Wrocław speaks Polish”), in the eyes of the communist decision-makers the formerly German city did not deserve any special help or support in rebuilding. The inhabitants’ feeling of temporariness was further strengthened by the presence of Soviet troops in the towns and cities of the Northern and Western Territories, which continued until 1990. Nowadays, 70 years after the end of war, the cultural foreignness of these areas still poses a problem that needs to be handled by the local communities of the Polish settlers’ families. However, it has rarely been addressed in Polish contemporary art. This historical context must not be overlooked when presenting the phenomenon of “the avant-garde Wroclaw”.
The exhibition is held under the patronage of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland Prof. Piotr Glinski and Mayor of Wroclaw Rafal Dutkiewicz.
The exhibition is organised by Wroclaw Contemporary Museum and held as part of the European Capital of Culture Wroclaw 2016 programme
exhibition commissioner: Dorota Monkiewicz, Director of Wroclaw Contemporary Museum
exhibition design: Robert Rumas
curators: Michal Duda, Anka Herbut, Anna Mitus, Pawel Piotrowicz, Adriana Prodeus, Sylwia Serafinowicz, Piotr Stasiowski
coordination: Jola Bielanska (MWW), Jasna Jaksic (MSU Zagreb)
The exhibition is co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland
The exhibition is supported by the Ministry of Culture and the City of Zagreb.
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