Current and announcment

Jonasz Stern — exhibition in Small Space

Jonasz Stern (1904–1988) painter, illustrator and draughtsman, a legendary artist. Founder of the first Kraków Group in the 1930s and its post-war continuation. Student and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.

He was born in Kalush in 1904 to an indigent Jewish family. Already in his early youth, he became involved in the communist movement. The Kraków Group, which he founded with students from the Kraków academy, was a programmatic combination of political leftism and anti-academic, avant-garde experimentation in art. The artist’s few surviving works from this period are references to expressionist figuration, cubist and other explorations of the first avant-garde.

He experienced his most dramatic fate during the Second World War. After the end of the war, reminiscences of his wartime experiences returned to his art. At that time, he created a series of prints on the theme of the Lviv ghetto. In these masterful woodcuts, he recreated scenes from the everyday life of the ghetto inhabitants as if in a historical reportage. At the end of the 1950s, he painted abstract pictures and discovered matter painting for himself. His breakthrough painting is ‘The Pit’ from 1964, which alludes to the trauma of his experience of being shot. In the following years, he began assembling paintings using fish and animal bones, eel skins and other organic matter, as well as crumpled fabrics, enclosed in glass cases. In 1968, after another humiliation of open anti-Semitism, he created his own tombstone in the form of a matzevah. Above all, there is an expression of philosophical reverie in these montages, which he himself called collages. The painter said of his work: ‘I use the forms of nature that evolution has shaped. Bones are millions of years of evolution, they contain the dimension of time, which speaks through it – that is one thing, and the other is that I save all these forms from destruction and prolong their existence in the form of a painting.”

The works of Jonasz Stern find a prominent place in the collection of Grzegorz Schmidt, who sees the creation of this artist in a special way: ‘Jonasz struggled to depict his trauma while showing a profound acceptance of the ambivalence of the human being. As a result, he nobly avoided the urge to retaliate, although he would have been as entitled to do so as anyone. »We are all cannibals« – he perceptively states with the title of one of his works. The Jewish wisdom that good is very close to evil echoes in his statements. We have a problem with this on a daily basis through our tendency to polar divisions. Paradoxically, Jonasz, who struggled all his life with dramatic experience, did not point out the culprits and perpetrators, understanding that this is simply who we are – the element of evil in us. He was oversensitive to violence and cruelty”.

The exhibition features three families of Jonasz Stern’s works: the ‘Semperit’ series, referring to the strike of the 1930s, woodcuts from the Lviv ghetto and monotypes and water-colours from the 1950s. These are completed by a painting from 1983 – a kind of ‘moon covered, one might say, with the waste of extinct organisms’, as Artur Sandauer, the artist’s friend wrote about this painting.

We present the exhibition of selected works by Jonasz Stern on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 35th anniversary of his death and the 90th anniversary of the first Kraków Group.

Curator: Jan Trzupek

The vernissage will begin at 6 pm on 31 March 2023. 18:00.
The exhibition will run until 7 May 2023.