In 1981 Werner Jerke came to Germany from the Upper Silesian town of Pyskowice. Whilst pursuing a course in medicine in Bonn he began to collect Polish art and was later supported in his activities by his wife Dagmar.
The collection which currently consists of more than 600 objects contains genuine rarities of Polish avant-garde art during the 1920s and Polish modern art from 1960 onwards. Some of the exhibits have been presented worldwide, including in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The Jerkes are planning to build a new privately financed museum in Recklinghausen in 2015. The Museum will not only house their own art collection but will also be open as a space for projects and events.
“Works of art never belong to a single person. They are only “leased” to an owner for a limited period of time. I am happy to be able to hold them for one moment. The decisive point, however, is that they belong to the whole of society”. This statement by Werner Jerke is clearly the most apposite definition of his attitude as a collector. The Jerkes do not collect works of art merely for themselves but basically with the intention of making them accessible to the general public at large. Werner Jerke’s Polish past and his knowledge of the Polish language are surely the main reason for his enthusiasm for Polish art. It is worthy of note that he decided to concentrate his collection on works from turning points in history. In this way two main themes in the collection have developed: 1920’s avant-garde in Poland and Polish modern art from 1960 onwards.
At the end of the First World War Poland regained its independence and reappeared on the map of Europe after being divided amongst different nations for more than a century. In art and culture there were hitherto unheard of breakthroughs in the avant-garde. Polish art could finally develop freely and make its own fresh and creative contribution to international developments. Genuine centres of art and culture sprang up, above all in places like Warsaw, Kraków, Lodz and Poznan all of which contained museums, theatres and a vibrant literature and pictorial arts scene. Artists like Władysław Strzemiński, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Katarzyna Kobro, Maria Jarema and Henryk Berlewi have not only left a lasting mark on the Polish cultural landscape but have also been recognised internationally. Nowadays their works are amongst the highlights in the Jerke Collection.
The period after 1960 can equally be described as a turning point in Polish history. However, under utterly different conditions. After Stalin’s death in 1956 and the subsequent „period of thaw“ in the former Eastern Block states, communist Poland began to open itself gradually to activities and movements that deviated from the prescribed political line. After 1960 this initial cautious opening could no longer be stopped in the area of art. A large number of artists developed their own positions and defended them courageously. A huge amount of works were created whose authenticity and originality can mainly be put down to the partial isolation of the People’s Republic of Poland, especially in an international context. Several of these can be seen in the Jerke Collection which also includes works by the world-famous artist and theatre director Tadeusz Kantor, not forgetting Alina Szapocznikow, Leon Tarasiewicz and Wojciech Fangor.