Frank Stella
and Synagogues of Historic Poland

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

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About the Exhibition


Frank Stella, an American of Italian heritage, an artist whose international reputation has been established for many decades, encountered the visual culture of Polish Jews in 1970 by means of Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka's book Wooden Synagogues [1959].

Over the course of the following years he created experimental (both in terms of form and technique) large-scale wall reliefs that critics subsequently hailed as a turning point in his oeuvre. The Polish Village series has been exhibited internationally since the mid-1970s at major museums and galleries, captivating audiences with its exotic titles—references to towns and villages, such as Lanckorona (Lanckorun), Bogoria, Lunna Wola and Olkienniki, that before World War II were home to magnificent works of Jewish art and architecture.

Stella's works have never been displayed side by side with images from the Piechotkas' book of the buildings that inspired them—the photographs and drawings of synagogues created for research purposes during the interwar period, chiefly at the Department of Polish Architecture (ZAP) at the Warsaw Polytechnic Faculty of Architecture. The name of this institution masks the secondary characters in our exhibition: Oskar Sosnowski, the founder of ZAP; Szymon Zajczyk, a Jew from Warsaw, a photographer and art historian; and finally Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, architects and scholars of synagogue architecture. It is largely thanks to them that a world which has materially ceased to exist has been preserved with priceless documentation.

Frank Stella's "Polish" series is chiefly about an artistic process, whose final outcome is an aesthetic transfer of forms that might at first seem historically and culturally distant. For this very reason the exhibition is based on the principle of "work in progress," presenting successive stages in the emergence of selected artworks: from freehand drawings to precise dimension drawings, small and large maquettes and models, all the way to large-scale collage reliefs which Stella produced in a number of different color variants. The exhibition is divided into five sections, each devoted to a different member of the Polish Village "family," each bearing the name of the town where a given synagogue once stood. Here Stella's works encounter their "ancestors"—prewar survey drawings and photographs of the same locations.

The exhibition is complemented by two projects by contemporary Polish artists: Jan Mioduszewski and the duo Katarzyna Kijek / Przemysław Adamski, who offer a personal reinterpretation of Frank Stella's creative process. Stella's works continue to inspire and astonish, like the material traces of the civilization created by Polish Jews.


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