Polnische Malerei vom Ausgang des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart.
In the past numerous publications, exhibitions and conferences have drawn our attention to the fact that the Iron Curtain was porous, the so-called Ostblock was not a monolithic block, and there was a type of art that existed beyond socialist realism. All the same there are still huge gaps in research, above all concerning cultural exchanges between East and West. From time to time it seems that one form of blindness has been replaced by another: (self-) criticism of Western arrogance and ignorance has led people to overlook or dismiss as trivial the contacts and attempts and exchanges that actually occurred in the Cold War period. This is as true for the so-called “Polish wave” – now for the most part forgotten – which took hold of West German cultural institutions at the beginning of the 1960s and manifested itself not only in theatre, concert and radio programmes, but also in a veritable boom in exhibitions of Polish contemporary art. Very little research has been done on these factors to date.
At that time one of the high points was an exhibition entitled “Polish Painting from the Start of the Nineteenth Century to the Present Day”, presented in the Folkwang Museum, Essen between 15th December 1962 and 3rd February 1963 (ill. 1–3). The exhibition was compiled by the National Museum in Warsaw and was only presented in Essen as a result of the initiative of the general manager of the Krupp firm, Berthold Beitz, and his close adviser and PR head, Carl Hundhausen. It was subsequently shown in Stuttgart (Württembergischer Kunstverein), Karlsruhe (Badischer Kunstverein) and Bremen (Galerie Die Böttcherstraße).
NEWLY DISCOVERED SOURCES
True, this was not the first presentation of Polish art in the Federal Republic by a long way. Following a few solitary exhibitions at the start of the 1950s (e.g. “Polish Poster Art”, Frankfurt a. M. 1950), they became much more frequent after 1956 as a result of the political thaw in Poland (these included e.g. “New Art from Poland”, a travelling exhibition through eleven West German cities 1958/59, and “Tadeusz Kantor“, Düsseldorf 1959). Alongside the exhibition in the Folkwang Museum, alone in 1962 there is evidence for no less than eight other exhibition openings featuring Polish art (incl. Munich, Hamburg and Rheinhausen). That said, the Folkwang exhibition has a particular significance. It featured eighty-one paintings and seventy-five drawings and was thus the largest survey of Polish modern art to date. Above all it was generally acknowledged to be the first “official” exhibition (Albert Schulze Vellinghausen, Polish Malerei. Ausstellung im Folkwangmuseum Essen, F.A.Z, 31.12.1962). True it was not a result of an official invitation from the West German government, a thing that was politically inconceivable at the time (diplomatic relationships were only taken up once more in 1972 and a cultural agreement only made in 1976). All the same this was a guest show from the Warsaw National Museum and the hosts and organisers on the German side – alongside the Folkwang Museum these were the Krupp firm and the city of Essen which jointly financed the exhibition – did their utmost to give the event an official stamp: beginning with rows of flags in Polish, West German and Essen colours in front of the museum, via the official opening celebrations, all the way to the ambitious programme arranged for the visiting representatives from the Warsaw National Museum.
Information on all this can be obtained from the exhibition record no. 2356 in the archive of the National Museum in Warsaw (AMNW), a record of the exhibition (no author is given) in the archive of the Folkwang Museum (AMF), and records from the Carl Hundhausen inventory (bes. WA 125/2) in the Krupp Historic Archive (HAK) in Essen. Whereas the exhibition and the catalogue have been occasionally mentioned in subsequent literature, these documents have not been evaluated to date. Nor is there any mention of the exhibition in the relevant publications on Berthold Beitz.
The archive material not only contains a chronology of the preparations for the exhibition, but also highlights the atmosphere in West Germany at the time with regard to relations between Poland and West Germany. In the final analysis this was all about using cultural means to cultivate an image. In this connection, the most important documents include the minutely detailed travel accounts in the AMNW by Stanisław Lorentz, the Director of the Warsaw National Museum, and his curator Stefan Kozakiewicz, both of whom visited West Germany for two weeks on the invitation of the city of Essen and the Krupp firm.