Skopje. The Art of Solidarity

Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

An amazing story of the Polish art collection in Skopje and the participation of Poles in reconstructing the Macedonian capital after an earthquake in 1963.

“Ars longa vita brevis” - art is long, life is short.
Composition by Henryk Stażewski (born 1894, died 1988) – a black-and-white work of a Polish avant-garde pioneer of the 1920s and 1930s; a key to the story of Polish works of art in Skopje. This special collection comprises over 200 works created by 135 artists. Polish artists donated all these pieces to a city that was left in ruins by the tragic earthquake of 1963.
At the moment, though, there is only one Polish work of art – by Henryk Stażewski – on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Republic of Macedonia’s capital. It is symbolic that a work of art by this very artist should represent Polish artists and the gesture of solidarity with Macedonia they made after the disaster. Almost the entire legacy of Stażewski was destroyed during the Second World War, when from 1939 to 1945 Poland found itself under German occupation that left a tragic mark on the country. After the war, the artist set about creating again. The painter donated a work of his from the 1960s to Skopje. Stażewski’s Composition gives you a sense of what remains hidden in the Skopje museum warehouses. The online exhibition Skopje. The art of solidarity will help you discover this wealth.

The entire Polish collection is a living textbook on the history of art of the first half of the 20th century. A cross-section of works by masters – university professors who were crucial in the post-war artistic life, and their students from the 1940s and early 1950s. The collection features pieces by pre-war avant-garde classics and experimenters in matter painting.

Among the masters were Jan Cybis
(born 1897, died 1972)

Czesław Rzepiński
(born 1905, died 1995)

Generation of their students was represented by Stanisław Fijałkowski (born 1922).

Marian Malina (born 1922, died 1985).

Jan Tarasin (born 1926, died 2009).

The collection gathered in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje is also an overview of different artistic genres and painting techniques, composed as it is of pictures, drawings and sculptures.
The biggest part – more than a hundred – are works of graphic art, woodcuts, zincographic prints, monotyping prints, and lithographs. There are also watercolours and gouaches on paper.
Behind the Skopje collection is a story about the life of Polish bohemia in the early 1960s.
Post-war Warsaw that was best depicted in the novel Zły (“The Man with White Eyes”) by Leopold Tyrmand, jazz clubs where Krzysztof Komeda used to play, the Krakow of the eminent avant-garde theatre creator Tadeusz Kantor, novels by Marek Hłasko, resistance against communist authorities of the Polish People’s Republic, and different artistic groups operating in Polish cities at the time.
Crooked Circle Gallery
Henryk Stażewski, Ewa Maria Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska (born 1895, died 1967) and Rajmund Ziemski were associated with Warsaw’s Galeria Krzywego Koła (“Crooked Circle Gallery”) run by Marian Bogusz (born 1920, died 1980). The gallery operated alongside the Klub Krzywego Koła (“Crooked Circle Club”), in which Warsaw intellectuals (historians, writers, philosophers and sociologists) would meet to hold discussions. After the earthquake, Marian Bogusz sent his Composition 20-59 to Macedonia. Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska, Poland’s only representative of purism until the mid-1930s, donated her Red Composition to the museum in Skopje. The work was made on a wooden slab. Rajmund Ziemski (born 1930, died 2005) is in turn the author of a painting called The Landscape.

One of the most valuable works in Skopje’s Polish collection is a canvas titled Mountain Landscape, which was authored by Jerzy Nowosielski.

Jerzy Nowosielski, an outstanding creator of icons, in his youth he lived in the circle of influence unickiego rite and orthodoxy. As a teenager he made a pilgrimage to Kyiv — in Volhynia.

The artist wrote about himself: "(...) I, Polish painter, spiritually born in Pochayiv. " Later he joined the artistic environment concentrated around Tadeusz Kantor.

Jerzy Nowosielski
born 1923, died 2011

Kantor influenced the work of many Polish artists, including the ones represented in the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. A stay in occupied Krakow and contacts with artists linked to Cricot 2 led up to a watershed in Alfred Lenica’s career (born 1899, died 1977), prompting him to turn to contemporary art. One the back of one of his works, Lenica wrote: “The drawing and line are the architecture, while the paint and colour are the music of a painting.” For Skopje, Lenica chose the work Cosine.

An artist associated with the Kantor was also Tadeusz Brzozowski (b. 1918-d. 1987), who in his works inspired by surrealism and abstract non-geometric, gave Macedończykom a work of "Asylum".

The Polish collection in Skopje also comprises works of the Group of Realist Painters, including Space Composition authored by Jerzy Krawczyk (born 1921, died 1969).

Do tej grupy należy też „Martwa natura” Kiejstuta Bereźnickiego (ur. 1935 r.)

Przełomowa dla twórczości Benona Liberskiego ( ur. 1926 – zm. 1983 r.) praca „Ludzie i domy” również prezentuje cechy typowe dla artystów Grupy Malarzy Realistów, którzy chcieli stworzyć przeciwwagę wobec sztuki abstrakcyjnej i podkreślić znaczenia sztuki figuratywnej.

Jan Berdyszak (born 1934, died 2014) was connected to Poznan, and created integral forms. For Skopje, he chose the painting Circle Composition XVIII. He became famous as an author of structural paintings, a cycle of which he initiated in 1965. He was involved in sculpting, painting, graphic art, and drawing. Moreover, he designed spatial installations and theatrical scenery.

Teresa Pągowska (born 1926, died 2007), the author of Portrait 1, worked in Gdansk at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. “One has to see a lot, in order to discard a lot, and gain more wealth by elimination; a formal shortcut should bring the clarity of expression and enhance the painting’s power. One has to keep searching for oneself and fight with this happiness of painting,” she said about her work. She always displayed an above-average sensitivity about colours. In the second half of the 1950s, she would put more emphasis on the expressionist qualities of colour.

In 2014 The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage became involved in assessing the condition of the Polish art collection. Jacek Miler, director of the ministry’s Cultural Heritage Department which is in charge of protecting Polish heritage abroad, explains why the decision was made (video only in Polish).

Polish sculptors also donated their works to Skopje.
The most valuable ones in the collection are Head by Karol Tchorek (born 1904, died 1985).

Precious is a Javelin Thrower by Władysław Frycz, an animalist sculptor whose Giraffe can be seen in the Warsaw Zoo.

Works by artists with some really interesting biographies also made their way to Macedonia after the earthquake.
Andrzej Strumiłło (born 1927) views himself as “an artist on the borderline of elements, those hidden in nature and those dormant in man, the builder of civilisation.” A painter, graphic designer, sculptor, photographer, writer and poet, who also derives inspiration from wild nature – the Masurian landscape and the Białowieża Forest. What proved a crucial influence on his artistic personality were numerous travels to the Middle and Far East, and to the Asian part of the Soviet Union. The Macedonian museum holds a painting of his called Ships.

Dominik’s world are sunny circles, flowers, sticks in fences, jugs, loaves of bread, and grass.” The author of The Might of Heaven was a versatile artist – a painter and graphic designer who also dealt with ceramics and artistic weaving. Characteristic formal features of his paintings are circular and oval-shaped points, and irregular-shaped stains.

Józef Gielniak (born 1932, died 1972) – an artist who spent almost his entire artistic life in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Polish village of Bukowiec near Kowary, where he worked as an archivist. He created almost exclusively linocuts and left behind as few as sixty-eight works. One of them, This is Stanisław K. Dawski, is in Skopje.

In the 1960s, Zbigniew Makowski (born 1930) lived in Paris, where he met, among others, theoretician of surrealism Andre Breton, as well as artists associated with this trend. A painter, poet, and creator of unique books that he makes with his hands and entirely on his own. In his works, Makowski piles up symbols and quotations. The artist is also interested in different branches of science, for example mathematics; he is an expert on many European and Asian cultures, and a refined reader of poetry and philosophical magazines. To Skopje Makowski donated his oil painting on board entitled Composition.

Rebuilding Of Skopje
Polish art was not the only gesture of international solidarity in the wake of Skopje calamity. The whole world took part in re-building the city. Poles played an important role in this process. The Polish architect Adolf Ciborowski was tasked by the United Nations with supervising the reconstruction of the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. Kenzo Tange of Japan won the competition to re-build the city centre.

The streets of the destroyed Skopje photographed for the legendary American LIFE magazine Carl Mydans (1907-2004).

Poles build the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Poles, or more accurately, a group of architects from Warsaw called The Tigers, consisting of Wacław Kłyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki, designed the Museum of Contemporary Art building in Skopje. They had earlier taken part in the reconstruction of ruined Warsaw, a city destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War. It was this new museum in Skopje, built according to the design by The Tigers, that saw works of art pour in from every corner of the globe. The works became an embodiment of huge international artistic solidarity.

Zobacz film "Skopje. Sztuka Solidarności" w języku polskim.

Ponad pół wieku po trzęsieniu ziemi w Skopje przypominamy niezwykłą historię dźwigania miasta z ruin, losy polskiej kolekcji sztuki i wielki gest artystów, dzięki którym zbiory Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej w macedońskiej stolicy są tak fascynujące. Zobacz film „Skopje. Sztuka Solidarności”.

See the entire collection of Polish works of art in Skopje
Learn more about the Polish art collection in Skopje. Second part of the online exhibition presents most of the works donated by Polish artists to the city of Skopje. The Google Cultural Institute is currently the only place where you can see those works.
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