Mieczyslaw Porebski, a renowned Polish art historian, critic and academic, died a year ago on 10 September. Today, we would like to take a brief look at the legacy of the man who made an enormous contribution to Polish culture.
Born in Gniezno on 31 March 1921, Porebski belonged to the generation of Columbuses – the first to be born and brought up in independent Poland after 123 years of the country’s partition between the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria. At the outbreak of WWII, he was in Cracow where he had started studying the history of art at the Jagiellonian University. During the occupation, he continued his education at Kunstgewerbeschule – an art school established by the Nazi Germans. At the time, he took active part in the cultural life of Cracow and belonged to the underground Independent Theater of Tadeusz Kantor – the pioneer of Polish avant-garde. In 1944, Porebski was arrested for conspiracy and sent to concentration camps, first in Gross-Rosen, then in Sachsenhausen in Germany.
After the war, he was related to the Group of Young Artists that gathered Tadeusz Kantor’s acolytes, including Jerzy Nowosielski and Tadeusz Brzozowski. In 1948, Kantor and Porebski organized the 1st Exhibition of Modern Art as a manifesto of their artistic views and opposition to the socialist repressions. The display turned out to be the herald of the new, avant-garde era in Polish art that would become prevalent in the late 1950s. Having graduated from the Jagiellonian University, Porebski moved to Warsaw where he became a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts and the editor of ‘Przeglad Artystyczny’ (‘Artistic Review’) magazine. In 1956, he received the International Critics’ Award at the 18th Biennale in Venice. After 2 decades of prolific academic and cultural activity, he returned to Cracow to become the head of the art history faculty at his ‘home’ Jagiellonian University. Since 1974, Porebski was also the curator at the National Museum in Cracow. As an art historian and pedagogue, he particularly focused on the individuality of interpretation.
‘He did not teach encyclopedic knowledge about art; instead, he taught how to look at an artwork. That was the most important,’ said Andrzej Starmach, Porebski’s friend, respected Polish art dealer and the owner of Starmach Gallery.
Also known as the ‘friend of artists and poets’, Porebski ardently supported the establishment of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cracow. After it came into effect in 2010, he donated a large part of his book collection (about 4 thousand volumes) to the Museum. To commemorate its benefactor, MOCAK devoted one of its rooms to him and modeled it after Porebski’s private study in the house of the Jagiellonian University professors. The room also features works by Porebski’s friends and favorite artists, including Tadeusz Kantor, Jerzy Nowosielski and Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz.
His main fields of studies were the art of the 19th and 20th century and art theory. He emphasized the importance of the past in the analysis of contemporary art, which led him to the formation of the concept specified in ‘Granice wspolczesnosci 1909-1925’ (‘Boundaries of Contemporaneity 1909-1925’) (1965):
‘History is being created and written in motion, the conical tail of the past that it (history) is carrying, is continuously getting longer and wider. There is no way to tear away from it -’ claimed Porebski.
His most important publications also include: ‘Pozegnanie z krytyką’ (‘Farewell to Criticism’) (1966), ‘Kubizm’ (‘Cubism’) (1966), ‘Ikonosfera’ (‘Iconosphere’) (1972) ‘Polskosc jako sytuacja’ (‘Polishness as a Predicament’) (2002). In 2012, his book ‘Spotkanie z Ablem’ (‘Meeting with Abel’) was awarded the prestigious Gdynia literary Prize.
Porebski also gave a new lease of life to the design of the modernization and restoration of the Wawel Royal Castle created by Stanislaw Wyspianski and Ignacy Ekielski at the beginning of the 20th century (1904-1907). A model, prepared by Porebski’s son Jerzy and his friend Jacek Czubniski, illustrates the scale and boldness of the extension of the Castle that were intended to hold the Polish Parliament and other patriotic institutions.
Author: Grzegorz Zawora / pr-controlled.com ©
Photos: Robert Schediwy and KHRoN / Wikimedia Commons