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Jerzy Porębski //My Dad's Books and Ties//

Jerzy Porębski My Dad's Books and Ties

My father's library was the most important place at home and one of the things he could not operate without. He always collected books and did not like to part with them.

His first book collections were irretrievably lost: the juvenile one during the outbreak of the war, then the occupational one and the Krakow one, completed before he moved to Warsaw. His one-year scholarship in Paris in 1948 gave rise to the last library, which was to stay with him for the rest of his life. He would buy books wherever he could and wherever they were the cheapest: at antiquarian bookshops, from street booksellers, at academic bookshops. From Paris he came back with a pile a books and... a cool necktie.

Later there were other foreign travels and every time it was the same. A suitcase full of books and another very elegant tie. He needed nothing more then. He was most fond of the French language part of his collection, which cost him the greatest sacrifices.

If he went for a walk, he most often went to a bookshop. As a result, the average number of books per capita at our home went well beyond statistics and was always growing. I do not think there was a realm which did not have appropriate representation in the library. All of them penetrated one another, forming relations which my father, like no other, was quick to notice and bring out. He did not like to lend his books, since each of them was a part of the structure and a well-functioning system. Besides, he knew well that books do not come back. Surrounded by many thousands of volumes, he remembered well where to find the one he needed. He reached each book quickly and infallibly, guided by a clue known to no one but himself. I always had the impression his books opened themselves at the piece of information or the quote he needed. He must have been in very close relations with them, but he also knew, often guided by intuition, what he was looking for. I am sure his library gave him more than the Internet could ever offer. He did manage (did not want?) to make friends with computers anyway.

There were holidays and longer trips, too. My father used to move on average twice a year. He travelled between Warsaw, Krakow and Ustroń. He took the books he needed for his work with him. There were always a lot of them, because he worked all the time and everywhere, simultaneously on everything he had to and wanted to do. One always had to pack. We would tie the books into parcels with hemp twine, which had been prepared in suitable coils before the trips.

In the old days books were packed into a suitcase and carried to the railway station. Then it was easier, since wheeled bags appeared and finally we changed for a car. Everything was planned and prepared in detail. The journey, unpacking, packing, unpacking – for about 30 years, always with the same piles of books tied with hemp twine.

Throughout all those years, when my father was completing his library, more and more new paintings, drawings and prints appeared at home – a lot of exquisite works of art. They were gifts from my parents' friends given on different occasions. This picture collection, referred to as 'iconotheca' by my father, was built up spontaneously, as opposed to the library, which was a very carefully compiled collection. One can say that this iconotheca was also an iconosphere of his milieu, his friends and the times they lived in.

At one point my father began to worry that in the future the collection might become dispersed. An idea emerged to find a new place for it. I realised that handing the collection over to somebody would be one of the most difficult decisions for him. But then there was a chance that the collection would remain integral. We started talking with Masza about it. He had great trust in her and confidence in the Museum she was making. Her reaction was quick and positive. She went beyond all clichés and museum routine, as she realised that an intellectual capital like this can help to create and build the new institution's identity, serve as its background. My father decided to part with his books; he was always able to open up to the situations which promised something new. However, I could hardly imagine that the library would stop coexisting with the paintings. They constituted a unique whole, complemented and explained each other. It was always like this: in Warsaw in Krakowskie Przedmieście Street and then in Krakow in Słowackiego Avenue. I suggested that along with the book collection my father bequeath to MOCAK the paintings as well. Masza jumped up at the idea and straight away she decided that they can become part of the exhibition: a working place-image of an intellectual, the Mieczysław Porębski Library. My father tentatively agreed, even though he did know yet what shape it would eventually take. I knew he was too modest and valued his privacy too highly to put his space on public display. Any attempts at stage setting, which would directly call something up, imitate something, any 'hall of memory' were out of the question. It should be a living space, created from scratch, but with history inscribed in it, where young academics and students (not only art historians) could work. The books, paintings, even furniture gathered there should on the one hand bear witness, but, most importantly, inspire and provide favourable environment for art research.

The Mieczysław Porębski Library at MOCAK is a little out of the way. It is an ambiguous space – a permanent part of the exhibition, but not fully accessible. Its interior can be well seen from the yard through a large window, but one enters it through the reading room. You can work there, use the library and simultaneously stay in the company of unique works of art.

The portraits: my father's one, the one most dear to me from 1942 by Jerzy Panek and the ones painted by Brzozowski, Winiarski, Kraupe-Świderska (his horoscope), the photographic portrait by Rzepecki and among them two giants – Kantor's and Witakcy's self-portraits.

His closest friends: paintings by Nowosielski and a series of drawings by Brzozowski, then his Krakow friends: Jaremianka, Kantor, Wróblewski, Mikulski, Stern, Hoffmann, Kierska, Kraupe, his Warsaw friends: Tchórzewski, Kobzdej, Strumiłło, Tarasin, Stajuda, Makowski, the Paris milieu: Borowczyk, Lebenstein, Kujawski, then the Cricot 2 Theatre, its actors and stage designs by Kantor. Everything here forms a network of connections and associations, since the library is my father's yet another portrait. He only saw it in photographs and an animated film and he liked it.

As for the 10 legendary books that were the most important for him... He never mentioned all of them. I believe the list kept changing in time. Anyway, it would most probably include: Berent, Breton, Apollinaire, Znaniecki, Chwistek, Witkacy, Bataille; who knows, maybe also Konopnicka with her dwarfs and orphan Mary as well as Koszałek Opałek, who was a key character for him.

Translation: Joanna Wadas