October 15, 2021 – February 27, 2022
Openness to experiment, enthusiasm, solidarity, looking to the future, as well as disagreement with the character of the museum’s functioning at that time – all these were the characteristics of artists who in four different countries, on different continents, in their own distinct socio-political realities, decided to take on the task of redefining the concept of museum. As a result, they built up their own collections and exhibition spaces, conceived as the very seeds of avant-garde museums to come.
The exhibition called The Avant-garde Museum is the first project in the world whose aim is to trace the story behind four extraordinary initiatives: the Russian network of Museums of Artistic Culture, the Hanoverian Kabinett der Abstrakten, the Société Anonyme, Inc. founded in New York, and the International Collection of Modern Art of the “a.r.” group from Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. Behind each of these initiatives were artists united in the rejection of the traditional concept of the museum, namely, it being “a temple” where one is supposed to cultivate the past. Acting independently, they tried to develop a new formula, thanks to which the museum was now to become “a laboratory” where new art and new ways of communing with art would be created.
The exhibition consists of two types of spaces. The first, presenting valuable archival materials, allows us to become acquainted with the assumptions of particular avant-garde initiatives, as well as with their history. The second type of space is used to display the works of artists connected with these initiatives. Among them there are works by Marcel Duchamp, Katherine S. Dreier, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Rodchenko, to name just a few. They were borrowed for the Łódź exhibition from such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the State Museum of Modern Art in Thessaloniki, the National Gallery in Yerevan and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. The choice of works presented and their arrangement were inspired by historical exhibitions, including the first permanent exhibition of the collection of the “a.r.” group at the City Museum of History and Art in Łódź and the International Exhibition of Modern Art organized by Société Anonyme, Inc. at the Brooklyn Museum (1926). The exhibition also includes a reconstruction of the famous Kabinett der Abstrakten, which was designed by El Lissitzky in 1927 for the Provinzialmuseum in Hannover.
The network of Museums of Artistic Culture was established in order to support and promote contemporary art in Russia. The most important representatives of the Russian avant-garde, including Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and Aleksander Rodchenko, were actively involved in the process of creating the network. Their postulates were radical. They called for, inter alia, complete removal of old masters and historical exhibits from the museum galleries and their replacement by only contemporary artworks. The competence of professional museologists was being questioned, with accusations of them being out of date and lacking understanding of contemporary artistic developments. In the new institutions, their role was to be taken over by artists themselves who were entrusted with the task of creating specific collections and developing new rules for their displays. Artists were also to be responsible for the educational aspect of the new museum.
Société Anonyme, Inc.: Museum of Modern Art is an association founded in 1920 in New York on the initiative of the painter and collector Katherine S. Dreier and some leading representatives of American and French Dadaism, such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. As its extended name indicates, the organisation was ultimately to be transformed into America’s first museum of modern art. The aim of this institution was to popularize contemporary artistic achievements among the inhabitants of the United States and to counteract their cultural backwardness and parochialism. The founders believed that by exposing people to art from different parts of the world they could contribute to a greater understanding between nations, bringing in a “new age” when all differences and divisions between people would naturally disappear.
Kabinett der Abstrakten (The Cabinet of Abstractions) was designed by the Russian constructivist El Lissitzky, on commission of Alexander Dorner, the then director of the Hannoverian museum. The room was the result of the artist’s earlier experiments, resulting from his interest in avant-garde exhibitions. His experience showed that changing the light, wall textures, colour combinations and arrangements of forms in space might contribute to broadening the perceptive abilities of the viewers and encourage them to become actively involved. Introducing a number of architectural solutions to the Hannoverian Kabinett der Abstrakten and the use of unusual materials were supposed to evoke in viewers’ minds the scenery of modern metropolises. This concept also allowed them to experience the fluidity, vagueness and multidimensionality – in short, the features that characterize abstract art.
International Collection of Modern Art of the “a.r.” group is the latest among the projects presented at the exhibition, but also the longest lasting. Its location in the Łódź museum led to the transformation of this institution into what we know today as Muzeum Sztuki. The originator of the collection was Władysław Strzemiński, supported by other members of the “a.r.” group: sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, painter Henryk Stażewski and poets Julian Przyboś and Jan Brzękowski. The most prominent representatives of the then European avant-garde responded with enthusiasm to the idea and joined the project. As a result, the works of, among others, Jean Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Kurt Schwitters, Alexander Calder, Sonia Delaunay and Max Ernst enriched the “a.r.” group’s collection. According to Strzemiński’s intentions, the “a.r.” collection was intended to broaden social acceptance of modern art. The artist saw a close relationship between the aesthetic preferences of society and its attitude to civilization. He believed that a society which is open to modern art could at the same time be ready to get engaged in the changes in modernization transformations.
We bring these four unique initiatives closer to the audience not only because they are an important part of the 20th-century art history, but also because they can now serve as an inspiration for all those who are trying to find the answer to the question of what the museum’s function should be.
Artists: Alexander Archipenko, Abram Arkhipov, Jean (Hans) Arp, Willi Baumeister, Henryk Berlewi, Heinrich Campendonk, Serge Charchoune, Wanda Chodasiewicz-Grabowska (Nadia Léger), Tytus Czyżewski, Theo van Doesburg, Gerardo Dottori, Katherine S. Dreier, Aleksandr Drevin, Marcel Duchamp, Natalia Goncharova, Jean Gorin, Stanisław Grabowski, Gustaw Gwozdecki, Alicja Halicka, Jean Helion, Karol Hiller, Vilmos Huszár, Béla Kádár, Wassily Kandinsky, Ragnhild Keyser, Katarzyna Kobro, Petr Konchalovsky, Konstantin Korovin, Nikolay Krymov, Pavel Kuznetsov, Fernand Léger, El Lissitzky, Ilya Mashkov, Louis Marcoussis, Kazimir Malevich, László Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, Maria Nicz-Borowiak, Pablo Picasso, Enrico Prampolini, Man Ray, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, Kurt Sieligmann, Hans Rudolf Schiess, Kurt Schwitters, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Georges Vantongerloo, Stanisław Zalewski
Artworks are part of the following collections: Archiv der Avantgarden – Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; Marek Roefler Collection / Villa la Fleur, Konstancin Jeziorna; Vladimir Tsarenkov Collection, London; Kunstmuseum Den Haag, the Hague; Museum of Modern Art, New York; MOMus – Museum of Modern Art – Costakis Collection, Thessaloniki; Museum Ludwig, Köln; The National Museum, Cracow; The National Museum, Warsaw; Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź; National Gallery, Yerevan; Russian Art Museum, Yerevan; Stadtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach; Tate Modern, London; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
The project The Avant-garde Museum, which is also accompanied by the book of the same title, published in 2020 by Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź in Polish and English, is part of the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the International Collection of Modern Art of the “a.r.” group.
Kazimir Malevich, “Suprematist Painting”, 1916-17, oil on canvas, courtesy of Museum of Modern Art. (MoMA), New York
Natalia Goncharova, “Gardening”, 1908, oil on canvas, courtesy of Tate Modern, London
Wassily Kandinsky, “White line”, 1920, oil on canvas, courtesy of Museum Ludwig, Köln
Pablo Picasso, ” Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper”, 1913, printed papers and ink on paper, courtesy of Tate Modern, London
Piet Mondrian, ” Composition with black, red, yellow, blue and gray”, 1921, oil on canvas, courtesy of Kunstmuseum Den Haag, the Hague
Katarzyna Kobro, “Spatial Composition (3)”, 1928, steel, oil paints, collection of Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź
Katherine S. Dreier, “Zwei Welten” (“Two Worlds”), 1930, oil on canvas, courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
Ragnhild Keyser, “Composition I”, 1926, oil on canvas, courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
Alicja Halicka, “On the Beach”, ca. 1920, oil on canvas, collection of Mark Roefler / Villa la Fleur, Konstancin Jeziorna
Władysław Strzemiński, “Neoplastic Room”, present view, 2020, photo: Anna Zagrodzka, collection of Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź