CHICAGO, ILLINOIS.- By 1890, a century of occupation and several failed uprisings had impacted Polish culture profoundly and engendered a broad search for a national identity in the arts. Driven by the Mloda Polska (Young Poland) movement, Polish art, literature, architecture, and music flourished even as the country remained partitioned under the foreign rule of Russia, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In subsequent decades, Polish artists working at home and abroad engaged in a lively international exchange that resulted in a Polish modern art movement that was remarkably diverse.
The Colors of Identity: Polish Art at Home and Abroad just opened at the Smart Museum of Art with a public reception and a talk by independent art historian Jan Cavanaugh, entitled "Opposite Poles: The National and the International in Polish Art." Featuring over sixty paintings, sculptures, and drawings all drawn from the private collection of Tom Podl the exhibition reflects the remarkable diversity of Polish modern art created between 1890 and 1939. It also demonstrates how the visual arts served as a focused response to the period’s divisive geopolitics and, in the two decades after independence was achieved in 1918, contributed to the cultural identity of a sovereign Poland.
In the fifty years encompassed by The Colors of Identity a period that begins with foreign partition, marks national independence in 1918, and ends in occupation at the onset of World War II Polish artists worked in a variety of modern styles. Inspired by encounters with foreign art practices, their work responded to the Symbolism and Synthetism of the 1890s, the Cubism of the teens, and the Neo-Classicism of the 1920s. Though disparate in the styles they practiced, they united in the pursuit to create a modern art imbued with a Polish consciousness. The Colors of Identity traces the complex _expression of national identity and international perspective that defines this critical period in Polish modern art.