Even as the dissembling greed of politicians becomes the latest theatre of the absurd in Britain, an exhibition of far greater socio-political depth is being mounted at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. The show brings together the work of the legendary artist-performer Tadeusz Kantor, who died in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that of 16 of Poland's New Wave artists. This is the blue touchpaper for Polska! Year, a series of 200 Polish cultural events in the next 12 months, including shows at Tate Britain and the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
Kantor's art-theatrical range and provocations are legendary. His best known dramatic work was Dead Class, a 1975 play in which Kantor played the role of a teacher who presides over a class of apparently dead characters who are confronted by mannequins representing their younger selves.
Twenty-first century shades of him can be seen in the work of the 16 newish kids on Poland's art block, some barely sentient when the Gdansk strikes shattered communist rule in the 1980s. Their range is notable, and the artworks carry an unmistakably humane charge: riddles of life, perception and metaphor are instantly identifiable, despite the cyphers of form, colour or movement produced by the artists. The hilariously graceful, buttock-rich portent of Anna Molska's short video conflates Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 film, Olympia, with Russian Constructivist art; Olaf Brzeski's shattered and reconfigured sculptures mutate the Renaissance; and Piotr Zylinski's video abstraction of the view through a moving lift window gives us a rivetingly original trope of Mark Rothko's visions. The ghost of Kantor looks on, no doubt, with a smile.
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