Katarzyna Kobro 1898-1951
During Katarzyna Kobro-Strzeminska's own lifetime her works were shown in around ten exhibitions. Since 1956 her works have been represented in over 50 exhibitions sponsored by dedicated institutions in several European countries, the USA, and Canada, and have, one may conclude, received much exposure. Next to the important presentations in Europe, such as those in Essen and Otterlo in 1973 and in Paris in 1983, Margit Rowell's "The Planar Dimension, Europe 1912-1931" at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1979 is of special significance.
Nevertheless, Kobro's name still appears far less often in the literature - as well as in the consciousness of those who concern themselves with 20th century art - than does the name of her companion Wladislaw Strzeminski. And as far as Kobro is concerned, this is unfair. It is above all the research of Janusz Zagrodzki (since 1971 ), later also that of Yve-Alain Bois (1984/90) and that of Ursula Grzechca-Mohr (her dissertation 1986 and the article she has written for this catalogue) which have emphasized the importance, the uniqueness even of Kobro's space-defining type of constructivist sculpture. Especially her monochrome "spatial sculptures" and "spatial compositions" are undeterringly direct and their concepts are fundamental as well as integral. Although they have been extremely finely proportioned, their material and formal economy may not be further reduced. Paradoxical as it may sound, the omission of inner walls goes hand in hand with a heightening of the spatial complexity. Turning the minimal sculptural limitative data into the constituants of absolute spatial art has the effect of modifying the environment into a gently restrained and at the same time, flowing interior; the environment and the interior are in themselves invisible, but they create a breathing quality, made rhythmic by the walls. The logical aspect - "it can't be any other way" -, the individual aspect - "each is different" -, and the paradoxical aspect - "less is more" - all merge into one another. This syntax places Kobro's small number of works, including her statements concerning theory, in the forefront of European constructivism.
Up until now there has never been a one-man show dedicated to Kobro. However, unlike the more diverse presence of her works in some of the group exhibitions of the Polish avantgarde, this first solo exhibition concentrates entirely upon her constructivist sculptures and their predecessors, the 'hanging' and 'abstract' sculptures. It becomes evident already in these early works that she foregoes any sort of portrayal . Furthermore, these works show us the artist's own process of finding herself as she gradually detaches herself from the Russian models of the initial phase. While the catalogue presented supplies broader information and, for example, reproduces the cubo-futuristic 'Nudes', on the other hand enters into Unism of Kobro and Strzeminski (Bois), the medium of the exhibiton itself does not aim to be "didactic", but is rather operative in intent: Precisely because Kobro's innovative contribution to the sculpture of the 1920's is still so little known, the core of her works is to be revealed; in doing so a specific objective of the Abteiberg Museum is expressed, namely to make visible certain driving forces in the spiritual history of the visual arts.
The Kobro exhibition and catalogue could not have been realized without the Muzeum Sztuki Collection in Lodz and the dedication of its director Ryszard Stanislawski as well as the organizer of the exhibition, Jaromir Jedlinski. To both of them go my special thanks. The collection foundation consists of gifts of the artists group 'a.r.', Kobro, Strzeminski, Stazeswski, who during the years from 1930-1932 contributed their own works as well as works from their foreign colleagues;this collection includes also the original documents loaned for our exhibition.- In addition my thanks are also extended to the person who has loaned us 'Spatial Sculpture 2' (1926) and who wishes to remain anonymous.
I would also like to express my gratitude to Ursula Grzechca-Mohr for the idea and initial concept of the exhibition as well as for her pertinent text, Ryszard Stanislawski for his contribution, Jaromir Jedlinski for compiling the documentation and setting up the exhibition, Yve-Alain Bois and MIT Press, Cambridge/Mass., for permission to reprint his forceful essay here in German translation, Christel Hughes, Ewa Krasinska, Krystof Ruminski and Elizabeth Volk for translations, and Wienand Printers and Publishers for producing the catalogue. Financial support has been graciously undertaken by the Monchengladbach Savings Bank Foundation for the Arts and Sciences.
Translation: Elizabeth Volk
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