Arsenal 1955, Breakthrough, Episode, Continuation

  • Date of event : 20.08.2010


 [22.07 – 26.09.2010]


Towards the end of 1954, in a little room on Okólnik Street, Warsaw, a handful of young artists (Marek Oberländer, Jacek Sienicki and Jan Dziędziora) and a young art historian Elżbieta Grabska, decided to organise an exhibition of Polish art encompassing works of the whole country. These young enthusiasts managed to persuade the authorities to hold the exhibition as part of the 5th World Festival of Youth and Students taking place at that time.

Since it was impossible for an exhibition of such scope and significance, both within the country and internationally, to remain simply a display of Polish art without a theme, a motto was attached, ‘Against War – Against Fascism’. On the one hand, it referred to the tragic experience of the past war and, on the other hand, it was supposed to show the human face of communism, which after the Stalin’s death was undergoing the process of self-healing; the revival of ossified structures and the correction of errors and perversions that had built up over the last decade. The competition was open to all Polish artists and 1,270 painting works were submitted, around 1,200 graphic works and 166 sculptures. The jury led by Wojciech Fangor accepted 197 paintings, 244 graphics and 58 sculptures. The exhibition opened on 21 July, 1955, in rooms at 52 Długa Street   (at present it is the building of the Archaeological Museum in Warsaw).

Marek Oberländer, Onions, from the Lubuska Land Museum in Gorzów Wielkopolski, fot. Lech Dominik



The legendary exhibition, informally called ‘Arsenal’ (the name comes from the place it was held) was organized during the Stalinist repression era and, as a symbolic event, it heralded the so-called thaw in the freedom of artistic expression within the overall political and social restructuring in People’s Poland. The event triggered a wave of comments and discussions, often contradictory.  But there was one issue on which everybody agreed – no one could stay indifferent towards the exhibition.  A lot of things were said on this subject, more or less objectively and emotionally, sometimes focusing only on artistic merit and in other cases, emphasizing its role in the context of political transformations.

The exhibition in the Silesian Museum entitled Arsenal 1955. Breakthrough, Episode, Continuation is organized to celebrate the 55th Anniversary of this outstanding event and is an attempt to answer the question; what role it played in the history of Polish art as well in the choice of the individual paths by selected artists.



Curator: Joanna Szeligowska-Farquhar 

Muzeum Śląska Opolskiego






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