Mieczysław Porębski – art historian and art critic, one of the most prominent figures of contemporary Polish humanist thought
Born on the 31st March 1921 in Gniezno. In 1938 he enrolled at the Jagiellonian University to study art history. During the occupation, he attended the Academy of Art and Design, where he encountered the artists who were later to form Grupa Krakowska. He worked together with the theatre of Tadeusz Kantor.
In 1944, in reprisal for his involvement in the underground resistance, he was sent to concentration camps (first to Gross-Rosen, and later to Sachsenhausen). After the war, having graduated, he settled in Warsaw, where he worked as a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts (1950–1969) and as the editor of Przegląd Artystyczny [Artistic review], (1952–1957). In 1970, he returned to Kraków where he was appointed the Head of the Department of Modern Art History at the Jagiellonian University. Four years later, he became the curator at the National Museum, where he co-authored, amongst others, the exhibition at the Sukiennice of Polish art of the 19th and 20th centuries. Since 1990, he has been a member of the Polish Academy of Learning. At the 1956 Biennale in Venice, he was awarded an international critics’ award.
Professor Porębski specialises in 19th and 20th century art and art theory. He created the concept ‘boundaries of contemporaneity’, according to which the interpretation of contemporary art needs to be placed in the context of the past. In his intellectual oeuvre, the theory of ‘iconosphere’ plays a focal part. It refers to man’s entire visual environment.
Mieczysław Porębski’s most important works are: Sztuka naszego czasu [Art of our time ] (1956), Malowane dzieje [Painted history] (1962), Granica współczesności [The boundary of contemporaneity] 1909–1925 (1965), Pożegnanie z krytyką [Farewell to criticism] (1966), Kubizm [Cubism] (1966), Ikonosfera [Iconosphere] (1972), Interregnum (1975), Sztuka a informacja [Art and information] (1975), a three-volume Dzieje sztuki w zarysie [History of art in outline] (1976–1988), Polskość jako sytuacja [Polishness as a predicament] (2002). Porębski also wrote books devoted to his artist friends: Deska [Plank] (1997), a compilation of talks with Tadeusz Kantor, and Nowosielski (2003), a collection of writings about Jerzy Nowosielski.
Professor Porębski died on 10 September 2012.