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Tadeusz Kantor jako artysta środkowoeuropejski

Gryglewicz, Tomasz

English Title: Tadeusz Kantor – a Central European artist

In: Prace z Historii Sztuki, 21 (1995), pp. 77-81

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Translation of abstract (English)

The '80s witnessed a growing interest in Central Europe, which in consequence of the two world wars had lost its political entity but had kept alive ist cultural, including artistic, patrimony. Thus European art shaped after the Paris fashion, or world art moulded upon that of New York, is contrasted with provincial, Central European art - the art of the present national states severed by frontiers, the peripheries of Western Europe, which in the first years of the 20th century still formed a coherent and significant artistic region. To these small Central European nations, until recently remaining within the orbit of Soviet influences, the reminiscences of the bygone "Imperial-Royal" Austria-Hungary from the time of Emperor Franz Joseph appeared particularly attractive in the period of "real socialism". For Polish creators the Galician myth became a synonym of the Central European, Habsburgian myth (by way of example one may mention here the prose of Andrzej Kusniewicz and Julian Stryjkowski). The no longer extant multinational Galicia, with a very numerous Jewish minority, appears in their works as a symbol of the for ever lost paradise of their childhood, becomes a synonym of the good old days. Likewise, in Tadeusz Kantor's creative work of the ‘80s there appears the consciousness of a local difference. In his utterances of those years he emphasized time and again his Galician and provincial character. In his recollections and creative work, both theatrical (the performances "Wielopole, Wielopole" and "Let the Artists Die") and pictorial, he returned to his childhood and youth at his native, Galician Wielopole. He attended a secondary school in "Galician" Tarnów and in "Galician" Cracow studied and practised art. All the same, one must not confine Kantor's Central Europeanism to the recollective plane alone. It is inherent in the very structure of an artistic message - in the form and content of Kantor's oeuvre. Most researchers studying Central European art see its specificity in the domination of irrational and emotional factors. It is pointed out that this art found its fullest expression in the styles and epochs in which these very factors came into prominence, that is, in the Baroque, Secession, and Symbolism as well as Expressionism. Kantor's painting and theatre, albeit many a time inspired by the novelties of avant-garde art from Paris, remained imbued with irrational and emotional elements characteristic of Central European culture. His expressive and dynamic attitude towards form is genetically Baroque. Kantor's Baroque is the austere Baroque of Debnik black marble, a gamut of tan hues, and the plain realism of coffin portraits, as well as dilapidated objects akin to the allegories of vanity and the transitoriness of everything, of inevitable death. The vast majority of researchers in this problem assert that Central European culture attained its apogee at the turn of the 19th and in the first years of the 20th century, when Europe was politically drifting towards its decline but flourished culturally. For the literary and artistic decadentism of Vienna, the capital of the Central Europe of that time - the time of creative activity of Hofmannsthal, Trakl, Klimt, and Schiele - the equivocal relation between death and eroticism became a leitmotiv. In the '80s, Kantor referred more than once to the traditions of the Polish symbolism of the turn of the century, to the output of Malczewski, Wyspianski, and Wojtkiewicz all of whom, as we know, had been very closely linked with the Viennese milieu. Throughout Kantor's creative work there ran the theme of death - from "Balladyna" and "The Return of Odysseus" to "Metaphoric Pictures" and "The Dead Class" - generally interpreted in an unconventional, blasphemous way, mixed up with the poetics of grotesque, with persiflage and obscenity. In his production Kantor consciously referred to prominent Central European artists (they are classified as such by Milan Kundera, the author of an essay on "The Tragedy of Central Europe"), to the Polish painters and writers Bruno Schulz and Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. It is, inter alia, from them that he borrowed his peculiar, Central European expressiveness combined with grotesque absurd and irony. While rejecting Expressionism, Kantor repeatedly declared for expression as the main element of an artistic message. Yet, unlike the expression of Paris or New York works this is Central European expressiveness, toned down, one would like to say elegant after its own fashion. Thus, despite his declared avant-gardism, Kantor remains within the Central European aesthetic with its predilection for romantic atmosphere, melancholy mood, subdued colour contrasts, monochromy, reaching for the "reality of the lowest rank", for a world of old, used objects, for a scrap-heap, and thus for the "expressive perception of our world" so characteristic of Central European art.

Document type: Article
Version: Secondary publication
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2011 16:27
Faculties / Institutes: Research Project, Working Group > Individuals
DDC-classification: Arts
Controlled Subjects: Kantor, Tadeusz
Subject (classification): Artists, Architects
Countries/Regions: East Europe
Collection: ART-Dok Central and Eastern Europe