Jerzy Lewczyński
Andrzej Paruzel
Late for a Moscow-Paris Train with a Change in Koluszki
28th october 2017
to 25th november 2017
[From a letter to Andrzej Paruzel, December 31, 1981]

Dear Andrzej,

you write that you have moved to Koluszki where you have started a job as a teacher and initiated research, as part of team T, into Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński’s residence in the city (1926-1931). You would also like to reconstruct the White Eagle monument designed by Strzemiński.

At first, I was surprised by the news; from an artist focused on the interplay of “perceptual traps” you have transformed into an activist archeologist. But given the “spirit of the time” and the way cultural life in our country is going underground, restoring the values associated with the history of the avant-garde is obviously becoming a matter of first-rate significance.

You write that you are fascinated by the question of how, in the small community of Koluszki, a kind of mini-Bauhaus, it was possible to do such important things as Kobro and Strzemiński’s wide-ranging contributions to various international avant-garde collectives or to lay foundations for the future collection of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.

In this context, I took particular interest in your comment, “At that time it was inexplicable to me, now I see it differently – given the fact that before the war the trains ran fast and on time” (Koluszki was the main rail junction of central Poland).

I recently happened, at a private library in Paris, upon the manuscript of an unpublished volume on an unknown episode in the history of the avant-garde, written by an eminent art historian (and your acquaintance), that may shed some new light on your observation.

Researching the archives in Moscow, the author had accessed documents describing the history of an international propaganda train, the so called agit-poezd, constructed by “futurist communists” and proletarian artists and filled with avant-garde artworks, that set off from Moscow to the West to support revolutionary movements there and establish a “Red Art International” in order to speed up the onset of a global revolution.

The newly discovered documents suggest that the avant-garde train project was overseen by Kazimierz Malewicz, and among the contributors were various Unovis artists, including Strzemiński and Kobro. As the secret services of Russia, Germany, and Poland wrangled to gain an upper hand, the agit-train, which was originally dispatched in 1922, wandered between Poland and Berlin to be finally sidetracked in 1927 in Koluszki.

By a strange coincidence, Strzemiński and Kobro moved to Koluszki at the same time, and soon they initiated the a.r. (“artists of the revolution”) collective, one of the key objectives of which was to acquire works for the planned International Collection of Modern Art.

In this context, could Strzemiński’s move to Koluszki have been accidental? This question is, alas, ignored by the manuscript’s learned author, who prefers to focus on the intellectual history of avant-garde utopias.

For me, however, an amateur detective, engaged in a more prosaic discipline, there is no doubt that Kobro and Strzemiński deliberately installed themselves in Koluszki in order to save the art train’s invaluable cargo as well as to propagate related new ideas of artistic education at the Koluszki Gymnasium and the Trade and Industry School for Girls. Unfortunately, they were too late to seize control of the international avant-garde train.

The author of the erudite study cites a telling report in the Kurier Koluszkowski (in mid-1930) about a train having been blown up at a far siding.

While Kobro and Strzemiński ultimately succeeded at securing at the Paris studios a core of what would become the Muzeum Sztuki collection, a different kind of question emerges in the context of their story: isn’t it so that being late for the avant-garde train is a more general characteristic of the dramatic journey of later and current generations of Polish artists, searching for avant-garde trains for themselves, lost between Moscow and Paris, with a convenient connection in Koluszki?

with warm greetings,

19.10.2017 17:28:27

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The Great Late Ones