Gallery of 20th and 21st Century Art
The appeal of the Gallery of 20th and 21st Century Art lies in the abundance of the museum’s collections, the careful selection of the works on view and the way these have been presented. Our collections of modern and contemporary art are among the largest of their kind in Poland. They were created along with the development of an independent state, in Poland’s pre-war capital, and were significantly expanded after the Second World War. This is Warsaw’s only large collection of art, in which the earliest works date from the first decade of the last century, while the latest were created as recently as 2012.
The need for such an exhibition is all the more urgent as there is nowhere else in today’s Warsaw where such a vast panorama of art could be shown. In this respect, Warsaw’s other collections are either fragmentary or still in the making. Thus, despite limitations of space and some fairly critical gaps in the collection itself, we have decided on such a chronologically extensive show. The Gallery of 20th and 21st Century Art covers the whole of the past century. We feel it our duty to provide both Polish and foreign visitors a review of Polish art from that time. Because encapsulated in these works are not only the changing aesthetics of a given moment, its creative aspirations and artistic trends and fashions, but also a kaleidoscope of the voices, attitudes and emotions specific to the entire past century. It should be emphasized just how dramatic a time this was for the world and Poland – from the rebirth of the Polish state in 1918, through the arduous construction of the Second Republic, its downfall and the slaughter brought by the war, resulting in the loss of millions of lives, including the country’s cultural elite, and the Holocaust suffered by Polish Jews, followed by decades of communist rule and the twisted events of an only semi-sovereign country, ending with the remarkable breakthrough of 1989 and the changes in which we are now participating.
We wish this show to illustrate the tensions of appropriate key moments in those years. The image of Polish art that we present is of course only one of many possible approaches. A new presentation of art from times that are still in living memory gives us a chance to reinterpret the significance of the selected works and attitudes, for the simple reason that our perception of the recent past is still undergoing change. That is why, instead of some works that are well-known and regularly exhibited in the rooms of the National Museum, there are others here that in some cases are completely unknown except to a small circle of specialists. Our intention is to regularly make changes to the exhibition to show other, important works and hopefully, new acquisitions.
The Gallery of 20th and 21st Century Art in the National Museum is a presentation of Polish art – not because that is how we wanted to show the art of the period, but because that was how the museum’s collections were built up over the past few decades. However, this is not, as has previously been the practice, an exhibition of paintings and sculptures designated an art gallery. It also features numerous prints and drawings from the 1920s and 1930s, excellently reflecting the temperature of their time, the works of Polish avant-garde film-makers, photographs and photomontages. Its differences lie in the new additions: records of artistic actions and performances from the last forty years, a presentation of the works of the so-called independent culture of 1980s and a selection of works completed as recently as the present period, which we refer to as the Third Republic, sharing new experiences and examining problems of the modern world, works forming the nucleus of a new chapter in the National Museum’s art collection.