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Exhibitions of Contemporary Polish Art in West Germany 1956-1970. Constellations, Intentions, Reception

The project investigates exhibitions of contemporary Polish art in West Germany between 1956 (“Polish October”) and 1970 (Treaty of Warsaw). Based on new archival material, its aim is to reconstruct the genesis and background of selected exhibitions, and to analyze their art critical reception within the context of the difficult political relationship between the two countries.

Part of the so called “Polish wave” in West Germany, the numerous exhibitions organized between 1956 and 1970 had a significant impact on West German cultural life and on the cultural relationships between the two countries in the Cold War era. They resulted from a specific historical constellation. Important factors, among others, were the “thaw” in Poland the one hand, and the political and moral impetus of many West German organizers to overcome the deadlocks of the complicated Polish-West German relationship, on the other. 

At the same time, and partly prompted by the exhibitions, contemporary Polish abstractionism figured as a major point of reference in the programmatic, ideologically charged debates about abstract art in West Germany. The project analyzes for the first time this peculiar role of Polish abstract art and thus sheds new light on one of the most eminent postwar art discourses. 

To examine the political implications of the exhibitions, their multifaceted entanglement with the historical-political context and their impact on West German art discourses, is the overarching aim of the investigation. Drawing upon of the methodological approaches of histoire croisée and Konstellationsforschung, special focus in put on the agents involved, their networks and social and intellectual milieus, and on the motives, interests and intentions underlying the exhibitions. In particular, the study discusses how and to what extent the exhibitions were politically, morally, ideologically, or aesthetically instrumentalized by the various parties involved.

The project thus investigates a pivotal and most fruitful, but largely forgotten and unresearched chapter in the history of Polish-German relationships and sheds new light on the political functions of art in the Cold War era.


German Research Foundation / Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)



Dr. Regina Wenninger - Projektcoordinator
Susanne Glasl, B.A. - Research Assistant