|Zachęta National Gallery of Art
Narodowa Galeria Sztuki
|Established||13 December 1860|
|Type||Museum for Contemporary Polish Art|
The Zachęta National Gallery of Art (Polish: Narodowa Galeria Sztuki), is one of Poland's most notable institutions for contemporary art. Situated in the centre of Warsaw, the main aim of the gallery is to present and support primarily Polish contemporary art and artists. With numerous temporary exhibitions of well known foreign artists, the gallery has also established itself internationally.
The Polish term zachęta can be translated as encouragement or motivation and refers to the Towarzystwo Zachęty do Sztuk Pięknych, the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts founded in Warsaw in 1860.
Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts
Before 1860 there were in fact neither public museums nor libraries nor other generally accessible institutions which could have allowed for exchange among artists. As a consequence of the November Uprising, Poland faced repressions making higher artistic education virtually impossible. The last major exhibition took place in 1845. After protests by artists during the 1850s, the Wystawa Krajowa Sztuk Pięknych (English: National Exhibition of Fine Arts) was eventually approved in 1858 and lead to negotiations with the Russian rulers who in the end permitted the foundation of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in 1860. The Society's statutes were set by artists and art experts. The first official meeting and the election of a board of directors took place on 13 December 1860. The board had twelve members, with six artists and six art experts, and was elected annually. The members remained in office for at least one month but no longer than one year.
The primary aim of the Society was the dissemination of fine arts as well as support and encouragement of artists. Furthermore, its intention was to create general awareness of art among the Polish society. In 1860 the Society had 234 official registered members. Only one year later the number had increased to 1464.
Initially, all artworks were on display until they were sold. Soon enough that lead to crowded walls and a monotonous permanent exhibition. After fundamental changes made between 1900 and 1939, the permanent exhibition was shown only in addition to temporarily changing exhibitions.
Not only was the Society annually hosting Salons, but it also funded scholarships and offered other aid to young artists, both members and candidates.
Ever since its foundation, the Society was seeking its own headquarters for exhibition activities. Following negotiations between directors and sponsors from the city of Warsaw, the new headquarters building was finally built between 1898 and 1900 according to plans by Stefan Szyller, a then well known architect from Warsaw. Before, the Society was renting spaces in different buildings. Since its official opening in 1900 the Zachęta building was in fact the seat of several institutions:
- 1900-1939: Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts
- 1939-1945: House of German Culture
- 1945-1989: Central Bureau for Art Exhibitions
- 1989-2003: Zachęta State Gallery of Art
- since 2003: Zachęta National Gallery of Art
Similar to many other exhibition buildings of the 19th century, the Zachęta building belongs to the category of European palaces of culture and was registered as a historical monument in 1965.
First tenders for the design of a new building were already put out in 1862. However, due to a lack of financial resources the plans were not realized. After the Society was given land by the municipality, another competition was announced in 1894 won by the Warsaw architect Stefan Szyller. He presented an architectural design in neo-Renaissance style with classical elements. The portal is ornamented with allegorical figures and sculptural works by Zygmunt Otto. The architrave of the building is engraved with the Latin word Artibus.
The construction works began in 1898. In December 1900 the front building was officially opened followed by the opening of the south wing in 1903. Both the opening and extension of the building were exceptionally well reviewed. Szyller's plans originally included the construction of two more wings which could not be implemented at that time. In 1958 however, the Ministry of Art and Culture decided to reconstruct the building. Surrounding houses were destroyed during the war and thus involuntarily gave way to the extension of the building. The Warsaw architects Oskar Hansen, Lech Tomaszewski and Stanisław Zamecznikow were entrusted with the reconstruction. Their concept intended a grid construction which would allow for an entirely free use and design of the interior space. In fact, the concept was not realized and the planned reconstruction postponed.
Eventually in 1982, the reconstruction plans were taken up again and executed by the Shop for Preservation of Monuments. From 1991 to 1993 the reconstruction was supervised and executed by the company Dom i Miasto (English: Home and City). Also the company was responsible for the extension of the staircases inside the building which allowed for direct access to the exhibition halls within the new part of the building. The resulting monumental perspective is emphasized by the Gladiator, a work by the Polish sculptor Pius Weloński which remained from the Society's former collection.
The extension of the building not only entailed a larger exhibition space but also a depot to store artworks, an unloading platform as well as an office wing with a separate entrance. The largest exhibition hall was named after the Polish painter Jan Matejko. Another room is named after Gabriel Narutowicz, the first president of the Second Polish Republic who was assassinated at Zachęta on 16 December 1922 by Eligiusz Niewiadomski, a Polish painter and critic. To commemorate the president and Wojciech Gerson, one of the founders of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts, two plaques were revealed during the gallery's anniversary celebrations in 2000.
1939 to 1945
During the Invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War almost all surrounding buildings were destroyed. Only the Zachęta building remained comparatively undamaged. Following the Polish capitulation, the German units occupied the building and converted it into the House of German Culture which then was mainly used for propaganda purposes. The Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts was dissolved. The artworks as well as other documents belonging to the Society were largely brought to the Muzeum Narodowe or confiscated and sent to Germany. In fact, the transport took place on open trucks without any proper form of documentation. During the Warsaw Uprising the Zachęta building was heavily damaged by artillery and bombs and thus needed to be fully renovated at the end of the war. Also by the end of the war they found traces of a flammable substance, suggesting that German units probably planned to set the building afire shortly before their withdrawal.
1945 to 1989
After the war, the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts was not reactivated. It was replaced by the Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych (English: Central Bureau for Art Exhibitions) which was founded in 1949 by the Ministry for Art and Culture at the request of the Association for Fine Arts Poland. In 1951 the exhibition activities were taken up again.
The central bureau was responsible for the organisation of art exhibitions as well as any other form of artistic activity throughout the entire country. In the year of its foundation, additional branch offices were opened in Kraków, Katowice and Poznań. They were followed by offices in Łódź, Zakopane, Gdańsk, Szczecin and Wrocław in 1951 and finally by offices in Olsztyn and Opole in 1958. In 1962 a separate department was set up with exclusive responsibility for the Warsaw International Poster Biennial which took place in 1968.
Eventually, the Central Bureau for Art Exhibitions became the most important institution within the area of cultural policy. During the 1960s attention was especially paid to art education and communication of art.
The 1980s were particularly characterized by the radical political changes related to the declaration of martial law leading also to a boycott of all official galleries. In fact, the central bureau never really recovered from those drastic failures.
Both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Iron Curtain changed political circumstances fundamentally and also affected the structure of the central bureau. Barbara Majewska, who was then the director of the bureau, moved the bureau away from its former old and centralistic structures. On May 30, 1994 the Central Bureau for Art Exhibitions was finally closed and turned into the Zachęta State Gallery.
In 2003 the Polish minister of culture Waldemar Dąbrowski renamed the gallery Narodowa Galeria Sztuki (English: National Gallery of Art).
Marking the 100th anniversary of the gallery, the exhibition Polonia - Polonia was hosted in 2000 featuring over 100 exhibits from different epochs and from different types of media. However, all artworks presented national subjects.
Within the same year the gallery opened the exhibition Słońce i inne Gwiazdy (English: The Sun and other Stars) based on a survey taken in 1999. Directed above all to Polish art historians, critics and curators, the survey asked for the most important artists of the 20th century. It was mainly directed to Polish art historians, critics and curators. The result was two lists: one presenting the most important Polish artists of the 20th century and one presenting the most important foreign artists of the 20th century.
The exhibition Słońce i inne Gwiazdy showed ten of the elected Polish artists: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Tadeusz Kantor, Katarzyna Kobro, Roman Opałka, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Alina Szapocznikow, Witkacy, Witold Wojtkiewicz and Andrzej Wróblewski. Also in 2000 the gallery launched an exhibition presenting ten of the most important foreign artists including Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol, Kazimir Malevich, Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brâncuși.
In 2000 the Swiss art historian Harald Szeemann curated an exhibition featuring Maurizio Cattelans La Nona Ora (English: The ninth Hour). The artwork shows Pope John Paul II hit and buried by a meteor. As the influence of the Catholic Church in Poland still is very strong, the presentation of Cattelan's work led to a public scandal.
The permanent collection of Zachęta National Gallery of Art today comprises 3600 objects of which about 700 are paintings, almost 80 are video works and around 100 are sculptures and installations. In addition, the gallery owns an extensive collection of over 2600 works on paper such as graphic works, drawings and photographs. Polish artists from the 20th century like Tadeusz Kantor, Henryk Stażewski and Alina Szapocznikow are represented within the collection as well as world famous Polish contemporary artists such as Mirosław Bałka, Katarzyna Kozyra, Zbigniew Libera, Wilhelm Sasnal and Krzysztof Wodiczko.
The works of the collection not only reflect the often complicated past of the institution, but also show the focus of the gallery. Today, it concentrates on works of contemporary Polish artists, either works that have been shown in the gallery before or works which were produced in cooperation with the gallery. This also applies to works and projects which have not been realized locally such as the Polish Pavilion at the Biennale in Venice. There is no permanent exhibition of the collection. The works either become integrated in temporary shows or are on loan for exhibitions in other Polish institutions or abroad.
Decisions about enlarging and changing the collection are made by the Commission for Purchases, Donations and Deposits formed in 1990. Since 2008 the Department of Collections and Inventories is responsible for taking care of Zachęta’s collection. The collection was started with a picture of Józef Simmler Death of Barbara Radziwiłł. Exhibits mainly came from donations and wills. At the end of the century, the collection already comprised over one thousand exhibits. Because of this, the construction of its own building became necessary.
The collection of information about the artists and artworks is as least as important as the collection of the artworks. The Zachęta library includes:
- catalogues: about Polish artists who are working in Poland and abroad, about foreign artists who are working in Poland, as well as catalogues about certain cycles of exhibitions. The catalogue collection counts as one of the most extensive in Poland.
- books: mainly about contemporary art but also about related subjects.
- magazines: Polish as well as foreign magazines about art in general.
The Department for Documentation archives the lives and works of Polish artists since 1945. In addition to biographical notes, there is a list of exhibitions the respective artists took part in as well as newspaper clippings and exhibition catalogues. The archive is accessible but can only be used there.
The gallery's own bookshop is located on the ground floor of the building, offering catalogues, books and magazines of Polish and foreign artists as well as catalogues of exhibitions which took place at both the Zachęta and Kordegarda.
The gallery also runs a separate Pedagogy Department which is responsible for the organisation of lectures, meetings and talks with artists and art historians, concerts, guided tours as well as the dissemination of knowledge about art, in the form of educational programmes.
The Kordegarda Gallery (English: literally: guardroom) was founded in 1956 as a branch of the Zachęta and then situated on Warsaw's famous Krakowskie Przedmieście street. It was basically additional exhibition space directed and organised by Zachęta, yet to a certain extent independent with regard to its exhibition programme.
In 2010 the Kordegarda Gallery moved to Gałczynskiego street, just off the historic Ulica Nowy Świat (English: New World Street). While still directed by the Zachęta, the Kordegarda Gallery had clearly become more independent, primarily devoting its attention to young artists both Polish and foreign. The main idea is to present the artists within the context of urban structures and emphasize the cooperation of artist and gallery. In fact, the actual exhibition room is just as important as the art within, which is why every artist is asked to work individually with the exhibition room and design the artwork especially for the given space.
Currently, the Zachęta is updating both the concept and programme of the Kordegarda Gallery.
In December 2000 the Polish right-wing politician Witold Tomczak damaged Maurizio Cattelan's sculpture La Nona Ora and prompted the dismissal of then director Anda Rottenberg. In a letter addressed to the prime minister, Tomczak not only denounced Rottenberg but also suggested that she should curate "rather in Israel than in Poland" and then demanded the dismissal of the "civil servant of Jewish origin". Also he proposed prosecution due to the violation of religious sentiments.
Media related to Zacheta National Gallery of Art at Wikimedia Commons
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