Meetings with art. Discussing “Just after the war. Polish art 1944–1949”

We are hosting a discussion concerning the Just After the War. Polish Art 1944–1949 exhibition at the Zachęta — National Gallery of Art. The exhibits curators Agnieszka Szewczyk and Joanna Kordiak as well as Dorota Jarecka will participate in the meeting.

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Understanding the ideas behind the exhibition in Zachęta is important also to the JHI because, in just a few days, the Institute will be opening the exhibition “ After the Holocaust. The Central Committee of Polish Jews (1944–1950)”concerning the same period of time and sharing many points with the Zachęta exhibition. 

Chaos, ubiquitous poverty, mass repatriations, forcible migrations for millions of people forced by the decisions made in Yalta and Potsdam to leave their homes and settle in the “wild west”, fear of the Red Army but also of the Germans returning, bandits, looters, lynching, pogroms — that is the horrifying image of Poland “just after the war”. The exhibition in Zachęta in Warsaw and the accompanying publication will be an attempt to answer the question: in what way was the complexity of social attitudes and political tensions in post-war Poland reflected in art, photography, film as well as architecture and design. It the period of 1944–1949, so crucial to modern Polish history, equally important in the area of art? What was the place of artists in the first years of the new, dynamically changing socio-political reality, in the atmosphere of “the euphoria of rebuilding” on one hand and “ the great fear”, described by Marcin Zaręba, on the other? What function was art meant to fulfill? How did it negotiate its language and its place? What atmosphere did young artists debut in? 

The exhibition in Zachęta, presenting hundreds of works from different genres of art as well as a wide collection of archival materials, will focus on showing the most important issues of that period. 

The crucial task undertaken by the curators is connecting art and politics, including the activities of cultural institutions specific to that period (BOS — Office of Rebuilding the Capital, Czytelnik, BNEP — Office of Supervising the Aesthetics of Production) and the role of art in Communist propaganda. Another important topic they will cover will be the issue of rebuilding the country from its ruins. Ruins which gave architects an almost unlimited freedom to realize their, often Utopian, visions. The exhibitions leitmotif will be ruins: from the idea of ruins as architecture, through the anthropomorphic vision of a mutilated city or antique ruins in art, to the issue of clearing the debris which demanded pragmatic solutions. Photography will have a leading role in the exhibition — artistic photography as well as journalistic and documentary photography — as the medium in which the peculiarities of that time are most evident and as the medium most often used as a tool for propaganda. 

The topic of the Holocaust and the ways in which it was commemorated (monuments, museums opened in former concentration camps) which was widely debated in that period, will also be a crucial part of the exhibition which will present it in the context of post-war anti-Semitism. 

One of the institutions dealing with commemorating the victims of the Holocaust was the Central Committee of Polish Jews, established in 1944 and called “central” because the authorities treated it as a representative of the Jewish population and its activities covered all areas of life — from social services to art. The individual departments of the CCPJ dealt with any issues necessary to normal functioning in post-war Poland, including assistance in searching for families, keeping an list of survivors, commemorating the victims, social assistance for those who returned and no longer had anyone or anything, organizing orphanages and schools, and after the Kielce pogrom — self defense. 

On the 21st of April 2015 an exhibition dedicated to the CCPJ will be opened at the Jewish Historical Institute: 

After the Holocaust. The Central Committee of Polish Jews (1944–1950).

The exhibition will include photographs and a wide collection of documents illustrating the little-known aspects of the lives of Jews after the war. Cultural and political posters form the JHI’s collection will be presented for the first time. Visitors will have the opportunity to watch screenings of feature and documentary films illustrating both the Zionist hope and elements of Jewish life in Poland — foreign sponsors, health care, schools, the Majdanek Museum. 

A conference dedicated to the CCPJ will take place on the 21st and 22nd of April.

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