Jonasz Stern Landscape after the Holocaust
30.06.2017 - 24.09.2017
With his life and art, Jonasz Stern left a permanent mark on the Polish art of the 20th century. Before the war, he was a member of the first Grupa Krakowska (Krakow Group), and in 1957 he co‑founded Grupa Krakowska II, with members including Maria Jarema and Tadeusz Kantor. These were the two most significant artistic formations in Poland.
The pre‑war Group experimented with form and manifested its left‑wing stance, the majority of members affiliated to the Communist Party of Poland. For his political views, Jonasz Stern was imprisoned in the camp for political prisoners in Bereza Kartuska.
After the Second World War broke out, Stern fled Krakow for Lvov. The paintings that he had left behind in his studio disappeared. Of the significant ones, only The Nude from 1935 survived, now in the collection of the National Museum in Krakow. After the Germans occupied Lvov, Jonasz Stern, as a Pole with Jewish roots, was put in the ghetto. On 1 June 1943, he found himself in a group earmarked to be shot. He managed to escape the bullet and to flee the place of the execution under the cover of the night.
These dramatic wartime experiences took their toll on Stern’s outlook and his art. Yet there was not in him an ounce of hatred or bitterness. He became a philosopher, reflecting on life, its transience and dignity. In his assemblages, he expressed his thoughts using simple symbols: scrunched up fabric, animal – especially fish – bones, sand, stones, netting and – occasionally – photographs. The drama of his paintings is entirely devoid of pathos. Stern created a universe of abstract landscapes left by a world annihilated. These compositions do not, however, express despair for what has been lost. Rather they carry a message for the living, urging them to be more alert in their humanity. In his art, Jonasz Stern shows the world after the Holocaust – its aesthetic potential an expression of hope for a renaissance of human values.