Art Against War and Fascism in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw 24 Oct 2019
The aim of the conference is to raise questions about the legitimacy and usefulness of seeking historical analogies for the contemporary wave of violence and dangerous fantasies of segregation of societies and stigmatization of groups deemed to be different. Has history taught us a lesson that can help overcome the crisis of communal thinking? Can we learn something from the antifascist tradition, despite all of its shortcomings?

Modern Art in Warsaw invites the public to the first part of the conference “Never Again” entitled “Art Against War and Fascism in the 20th and 21st Centuries”, which accompanies the exhibition of the same name presented at the Museum on the Vistula (30.08-17.11.2019).

We hope that the voices of the invited speakers will not only establish a theoretical context for the works presented in the exhibition, but also subject them to thorough, scholarly examination. The structure of the conference reflects the structure of the exhibition, displaying the relations between art and antifascism in the 1930s, the 1950s, and the present day.

The first session will open with presentations by Jenny Nachtigall and Dorota Jarecka addressing gestures and manifestations of antifascist art in interwar Poland and the Weimar Republic. Artists of the Kraków Group and Berlin Dadaism, operating in the reality of a brutal ideological battle and violence, established a lasting foundation for later antiwar and antifascist efforts. Agata Pietrasik’s presentation will be devoted to art created in Nazi concentration camps as a form of resistance and the battle to maintain humanity at the time of the greatest triumph of fascism.

The second session will be opened by David Crowley and his analysis of the functioning of Picasso’s Guernica under changing social and political circumstances, from the time of its creation in 1937 through the 1970s. In this portion of the conference we will also discuss the relations between antifascism and socialist realism in the 1950s, in the context of the Cold War and Stalinist propaganda. Piotr Słodkowski will address the Arsenal exhibition, and in particular the painting by Marek Oberländer presented there, Napiętnowani (Branded). Justyna Balisz-Schmelz will describe the propaganda role of communist antifascism in the context of the dominant socialist realism in East Germany.

These historical analyses will be supplemented by a discussion among directors representing leading European museums belonging to the coalition L’Internationale. The exhibition “Never Again” was created thanks to this cooperation within the EU programme “Our Many Europes.” The discussion will be devoted to a comparison of the social mission and programme tasks of the museums, in the face of political tensions, including tensions arising in the interpretation of history and relating to the history of works of art.

More information on the conference is available on the Museum’s website.