Centrum Scenografii Polskiej is concerned with stage and set design in social, cultural and formal contexts and operates at the junctures of theatre, film, architecture, fine arts and entertainment. CSP aims to preserve and promote set design achievements in the form of designs, sketches, photos, models, costumes and videos. Besides pieces by prominent stage designers, CSP also compiles theatre documentation including posters, prints, correspondence, manuscripts and other memorabilia related to theatre production. The collection is complete with photographs of stage performances, interviews and articles associated with CSP’s exhibits.
CSP’s collection covers works produced after 1945 that depict the evolution that Polish stage design has undergone between the post-war period and today and are the highest achievements of contemporary theatre. The majority of CSP’s exhibits include stage, costume, puppet and prop designs, highlighting various ways of approaching theatre space and reflecting the artistic trends pursued by specific artists. Of particular interest are works by artists such as Otto Axer, Władysław Daszewski, Zofia Wierchowicz, Andrzej Kreutz Majewski and Lidia and Jerzy Skarżyńscy. The collection also includes pieces that draw upon Polish folklore, by Adam Kilian, Andrzej Stopka and Zenobiusz Strzelecki, surreal designs by Wiesław Lange, and designs by the abstractionist Piotr Potworowski. The younger generation of artists setting current stage design trends is represented by the likes of Zofia de Ines, Małgorzata Słoniowska, Barbara Hanicka and Jadwiga Mydlarska-Kowal. Other exhibits include works by auteur theatre artists: Tadeusz Kantor and Józef Szajna, and unique designs by Jerzy Gurawski for performances of Jerzy Grotowski, one of the most eminent reformers of the received idea of illusionistic theatre.
CSP’s collection is complete with puppets, objects, costumes and headgear. The costumes that make up CSP’s collection represent both the trend of design based on formal synthesis and one that is meant to impart form with style. The largest body of works are costumes made to designs by Zofia Wierchowicz and Andrzej Kreutz Majewski. The costumes designed by Zofia Wierchowicz are imaginative and sculptural. The fabric features an abundance of textures that come from many layers of paint and applications. Andrzej Kreutz Majewski’s costumes are highly expressive and employ a highly symbolic language. They make allusions to motifs that transcend any given culture. Other noteworthy exhibits within this collection are Adam Kilian’s costumes, which draw upon folk costumes and, with their form and colours, allude to glass painting, and the costumes by Otto Axer. The costumes being part of the CSP’s collection originate not only from dramatic performances, but also from opera and ballet shows, showing the relationships between their form and stage use.
Another group of items collected by Centrum Scenografii Polskiej are puppets, with puppets designed by or under the direction of Jerzy Zitzman making up the largest body of exhibits. Working as a set designer for both theatre and film, Jerzy Zitzman brought surreal features into puppet shows by means of unexpected combinations of forms and themes. On many occasions, he would go beyond stage and puppet design to direct his own shows. While working on animated films, he elaborated on the themes he first explored in theatre. This film experience gave him new technical possibilities, something evident in his designs for the film Nić, an aesthetic and technical summary of his film oeuvre. Occupying a special place in CSP’s collection are Józef Szajna’s puppets for the performance Ślady, co-creating the auteur kind of narrative devoted to the contemporary world affected by the experience of the Holocaust and totalitarianism. Noteworthy are also the puppets designed for the plays of Janusz Wiśniewski, an auteur that brought aesthetic vision to the fore. The artist combined avant-garde forms with the poetics of popular theatre, cabaret and circus. The puppet collection is complete with works by Ala Bunsch, widely considered the originator of the typically Polish kind of puppets, marked by their simple, geometric shape, and of Mikołaj Malesza, whose works are caricatural and deformed. The collection also includes Krystian Lupa’s mannequins and Jadwiga Mydlarska-Kowal’s effigies.
Paintings by leading Polish stage designers make up a unique part of CSP’s collection, as they point to the key characteristic of Polish stage design: its being vastly informed by painting. The works by contemporary artists continue to show a strong relationship between theatre and painting. A closer look at the paintings and stage designs helps us understand the processes behind the production of multidimensional theatre space. It is a space that is based on both designs and images. CSP’s collection features paintings by Zofia Wierchowicz, Otto Axer, Andrzej Kreutz Majewski, Wiesław Lange and Józef Szajna. Although they are influenced by a variety of artistic trends, such as Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, they all share certain themes and forms, found both in the paintings and designs of the artists in question. Juxtaposed with the artists’ stage designs, the paintings provide insights on the mechanisms that inform the aesthetic nature of relevant shows. These are insights into the complex techniques used by designers who paint, or painters who work in theatre. The paintings by the leading Polish stage designers reveal the way major art trends from the mid-19th century on have been reflected in 20th and 21st-century theatre, as well as the principles of interaction between visual arts and theatre.
Some of the most noteworthy of CSP’s latest acquisitions are the pieces by Józef Szajna, Andrzej Kreutz Majewski, Barbara Ptak and Wiesław Lange, which highlight the trends within the visual aspect of 20th-century theatre in Poland. The works of A. Kreutz Majewski, an eminent painter, stage designer and professor of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, complement more than 300 pieces being part of Muzeum Śląskie’s collection. The designs and technical drawings for opera productions such as “Raj utracony” interpret Krzysztof Penderecki’s music, showing the impact of ideas whereby theatre alludes to its ancient roots and draws upon forms produced by the Italian Renaissance and Baroque. The above-mentioned pieces also show references to the readily recognizable themes within A. Kreutz Majewski’s designs for “Pasja” and “Diabły z Loudun” by Penderecki. Another precious acquisition is the body of 100 works by Józef Szajna, which demonstrates outstanding substantive value and technical maturity. His stage designs are marked by their use of the abstract language of informel, collage and matter painting. Inspired by his artistic experience with Teatr Ludowy, Józef Szajna embarked on a quest that led him to auteur theatre that stresses the aesthetic narrative. CSP has also supplemented the collection of Wiesław Lange’s works, who for 36 years was the main stage designer of Teatr Śląski, where he laid the foundations for the visual shape of the Katowice theatre at the time its form came into being. Lange’s most famous works are some of the most outstanding examples of Polish surrealism and an important contribution to the Polish avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s.
The collected works are a point of departure for research on stage designers’ working methods as they provide insights into particular stages of producing a theatre show, from researching source materials for inspiration to providing sketches to selecting colours to executing the final design. With their diversity, the works collected by the CSP present the specific nature of designing for various literary forms and types of stages and spaces. These exhibits also let us investigate contemporary stage designs in terms of the features that draw upon past theatre forms, interpreting them through contemporary drama and demonstrating their place in today’s theatre.