1st December 2018 – 31st March 2019 | Kraków Ethnographic Museum

opening: 30th November 2018


The exhibit Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust introduces works from Polish and German ethnographic museums and private collections. Visitors will see sculptures by Władysław Chajec (“Nazis” 1967), Adam Zegadło (“Shared Fate” 1969), Wacław Czerwiński (“The Last Embrace” 1983), Zygmunt Skrętowicz (“Auschwitz” series 1963), Jan Staszak (“Gas” 1969), Jan Wojtarowicz (“German Factories” c. 1970), and paintings by Adam Czarnecki (“Banishment of the Jews of Pierzchnica” 1959 and “Jews Get to Work” 1965-67), among others.
These works tell about World War II as seen from up close. Some of them – intentionally or by chance – depict the Holocaust. Others obscure the specifically Jewish character of the genocide, framing it instead as Catholic Polish martyrology or a universal human tragedy.
These objects are complex documents born of various impulses: their creators are artists, but also collectors, ethnographers, curators, ideologues. The oldest example is a painting from (ca.) 1948 by Sławomir Kosiniak from Zalipie, a village famous for its decorative floral motifs. Recently discovered in the archives of the Kraków Ethnographic Museum, it presents the round-up of local Jews. The most recent work is “Jedwabne” by Jan Kowalczyk, commissioned by a German collector in 2017.
Wojciech Wilczyk photographed selected works. His series Blow-ups (2016-2018) focuses on the perspectives of the creators as bystanders or witnesses. Wilczyk brings our gazes in line with theirs, looking towards the victims and perpetrators. In dialogue with the original artworks, his series completes the exhibition.

This show raises many questions: How did these works come about? Who made them, and why? Who bought, commissioned, and collected such scenes? Were they exhibited? For which audience? What do they actually depict? How should we look at them today? Can we treat them as witnesses to murder? Who are we – and who do we become – when confronted with these uncanny documents today?

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The exhibition is the product of systematic research undertaken by its curators: Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Wojciech Wilczyk, and Magdalena Zych. The initial question concerned whether visual statements made by artists about the Holocaust could be found in Polish ethnographic collections.
But others quickly appeared: What is the status of such objects today? What are their biographies? What were the artists trying to tell us? What emotions surround them? The research, which began in 2016 in Poland and Germany, explored the holdings of public institutions and private collections (including those of Ludwig Zimmerer, Marian Pokropek, Leszek Macak, Walter Graetz, Louis Galinski, and others); conversations with artists (e.g. Roman Śledz from Malinówka near Lublin, Jarosław Furgała from Brzeg, Włodzimierz Naumiuk from Kaniuki, Jan Kowalczyk from Koszalin) and their descendants, as well as interviews with collectors, museum ethnographers, and exhibition curators.

The curators documented all of the works they found. Among the more than 400 war-related works we discovered, violence against Jews appears in about 60. Precisely what they depict, and what they are trying to say, is not always obvious. They include sculptures by Władysław Chajec (“Nazis” 1967), Adam Zegadło (“Shared Fate” 1969), Wacław Czerwiński (“The Last Embrace” 1983), Zygmunt Skrętowicz (“Auschwitz” series 1963), Jan Staszak (“Gas” 1969), Jan Wojtarowicz (“German Factories” c. 1970) and paintings by Adam Czarnecki (“Banishment of the Jews of Pierzchnica” 1959 and “Jews Get to Work” 1965-67), among others.

The project is part of the research project TRACES – Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts: From Intervention to Co-Production (2016-2019). Implemented as part of the European Commission Horizon 2020 Reflective Society program, its purpose is to interpret contentious heritage. The experimental research carried out by the TRACES team involves building multilateral collaborations among the academy, museums, and artists.

Project Partners include: Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt (Austria), Milan Polytechnic (Italy), University of Oslo (Norway), Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK, Switzerland), Jagiellonian University in partnership with the Kraków Ethnographic Museum, Hosman Durabil Association in partnership with Mediaş Synagogue (Romania), Association of Domestic Research Society (Slovenia, Ljubljana) in collaboration with The National and University Library, Moderna Galerija Ljubljana (National Museum of Modern Art), University of Edinburgh and Natural History Museum in Vienna (Scotland-Austria), Ulster University in cooperation with Forum for Alternative Belfast (Northern Ireland). The Head of the consortium is Professor Klaus Schöneberger (Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt). Grant No. 693857 (Horizon 2020, Reflective Society). The authors of the presentation take full responsibility for the contents presented.


Important dates:

> 30th November 2018: exhibition opening

> 8th December: talk with Wayne Modest

> 22nd – 24th February: performative events

Performative event with Cricoteca modern performative art museum, in co-operation with project AHRC-funded project “Staging Difficult Pasts: Of Narratives, Objects and Public Memory”. A panel discussion will follow.

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Curators: Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Wojciech Wilczyk, Magdalena Zych
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Visiting the exhibit is not recommended for children under the age of 14.

Contact information for journalists:
Ludmiła Maruszewska / maruszewska@etnomuzeum.eu
Tel. 012 55 75, ext. 53. Mobile: 728 865 013

Kraków Ethnographic Museum – A Cultural Institution of the Lesser Poland Region: Kraków Ethnographic Museum event page


Image captions:

  1. Franciszek Skocz, Camp (a fragment), 1978, Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. Photo by Wojciech
  2. Jan Wojtarowicz, Deutsche Fabriken (a fragment), ca. 1970, Folk Art Museum in Otrębusy. Photo by Wojciech Wilczyk.
  3. Sławomir Kosiniak, No title, ca. 1948, Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. Photo by Wojciech Wilczyk.
  4. Władysław Chajec, Commander in Auschwitz mercilessly massacres the prisoners (a fragment), ca 1971, Regional Museum, Jaslo. Photo by Wojciech Wilczyk.
  5. Zygmunt Skrętowicz, Auschwitz series, 1962, National Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw. Photo by
    Wojciech Wilczyk.

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“Terribly Close” press release