Tadeusz Kantor

Tadeusz Kantor

Born April 6 1915, Wielopole Skrzyńskie
Died December 8 1990, Kraków

The absolute artist, universal performer, director, stage designer, author of happenings, actor, writer, painter and art theorist Tadeusz Kantor was once named as the best artist in the world among polish artists and the most polish artist among artists from the whole world. Kantor had tied himself firmly to the native land, Wielopole where he was born and Krakow where he worked. But his provincial madness goes far beyond the polish cultural and linguistic context, to whose isolation he intensely opposed.


Tadeusz Kantor studied painting and scenography at the Krakow Akademia Sztuk Pięknych/ Academy of Fine Arts from 1933 to 1939. His scenography teacher was Karol Frycz (1877 - 1963).


During WWII, he co-created the underground Independent Theater in Krakow where he staged three plays, Orpheus (1942) by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Balladyna (1943) by Słowacki (1809-1849) and Powrót Odysa/ The Return of Ulysses (1944) by Wyspiański (1869-1907). From 1964, he staged around fifty scenographic projects in Krakow (Stary teatr/ The Old Theater under the direction of Helena Modrzejewska), Warsaw, Katowice, Opole and Lodzh. During occupation, he also co-founded Grupa Młodych Plastyków/ The Group of Young Artists. In the same year, he joined Mieczysław Porębski's (1921-2012) Manifesto which promoted artists' personal and creative freedom and independence from politics and ideology.


After his return from Paris, Kantor becomes professor at Wyższa Szkola Sztuk Plastycznych/ School of the of Fine Arts in Krakow, he initiated the foundation of the artistic Grupa Krakowska/ Krakow Group and the organization of the first Krakow post-war exhibition of contemporary art (Wielka Wystawa Sztuki Nowoczesnej/ Great Exhibition of Modern Art). He participated in foreign shows of contemporary Polish painting, the Polish Art Today touring exhibition (Kosciuszko House in New York/ Chicago/ Washington), and the Young Polish Painters exhibition which was presented in Karlovy Vary, České Budějovice and Prague. He was also appointed professor at the Krakow Academy, although he was removed from the post after a short time (1949). His war experiences briefly awoke his interest in figurative painting. Kantor's canvases are typically known for their grotesqueness and roughness of structure, his use of dark colours and the resulting depressing atmosphere (Kompozycja/ Composition, 1944-1945). He participated in the Krakow Exhibition of New Painting with metaphorical compositions characterised by his thoughtful use of cold colours (Ponad-Ruchy/ Supra-Movements, 1948).


Kantor retreated from public life after the onset of the socialist-realist doctrine (he resumed his participation in exhibitions in 1955).



In the mid-fifties he worked to a great extent with Maria Jarema (1908-1958). In 1955 they founded an experimental scene in Krakow called Cricot 2 (taking on the ideas of the pre-war Józef Jarema's Cricot), where, a year later, Kantor staged Witkacy's The Cuttlefish (Mątwa) and in 1957, the very first theatre emballage of the Mikulski's Circus. They also had a joint exhibition in 1955 in the Po prostu/ Just gallery in Warsaw. This was where Kantor introduced his informal work. The Tachisme in his work is expressed by the wealth of colours, bold structures, and the direction of points and lines (Oahu, 1957). The series was successfully presented at exhibitions abroad, especially France, in the second half of the 1950's.


Documenta 2 (group exhibition, Kassel)


The period between 1960 and 1962 was connected with Kantor's Teatr informel/ Informal Theater. In 1961he staged Witkiewicz's (1885-1939) W małym dworku/ Country House. Actors, already (I don't know what you mean but that is a strange word to use )during the emballage period, permanently became objects, which moved on the stage more or less accidentally, regardless of their individuality. Another reduction resulted in the concept of Teatr zerowy/ Zero Theatre (1962-1964), now completely deprived of any story or action. Cricot 2 staged Witkiewicz's Wariat i zakonnica/ The Madman and the Nun in 1963. Kantor published three manifestos in 1963 and his aim was to explain the current direction: They were Manifest – Ambalaz/ Manifesto - Emballage, in Switzerland, and the Teatr autonomiczny/ The Autonomous Theatre and Teatr zerowy/ The Zero Theatre at home. In the same year and in the following years, he was engaged in the newly established Krzysztofory gallery, where he presented his anti-exhibition titled Wystawa Popularna/ The Popular Exhibition (1963) and some of his later happenings (Linia podziału/Division Line, 1966). He also reflected emballage in his painting. He created semi-three-dimensional installations


Fifteen Polish Painters (group exhibition, New York (NY))


Kantor organized the first Polish happening, Cricotage and Linia podziału/ The Division Line (Krysztofory, 1966). It was later followed by Panoramiczny Happening morski/ Panoramic Sea Happening (Plener Koszaliński in Osieki, 1967), List/ A Letter (Foksal, 1968) and Lekcja anatomii według Rembrandta/ The Anatomy Lesson according to Rembrandt (Nurnberg Kunsthalle, 1968/ Foksal, 1969). In 1972, he produced Witkiewicz's Nadobnisie i koczkodany/ Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes in the form of a happening.


After a twenty year break, Tadeusz Kantor temporarily returned to the Krakow Akademia Sztuk Pięknych as a teacher. In the late sixties, he sporadically reflected the principles of conceptualism: He presented his Wielkie krzesło/ Big Chair (1970) at the Wrocław symposium.


Moderne Polnische Malerei Graphil (group exhibition, Berlin)


Kantor produced his peak theatre adaptations in the second half of the 1970's and in the 1980's. In the so called Teatr śmierci/ The Theatre of Death, his first production was Umarła Klasa/ Dead Class (1975), followed by Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), Niech sczezną artyści/ Let the Artists Die (1985) and Nigdy już tu nie powrócę/ I Shall Never Return Here (1988). Kantor's play Dziś są moje urodziny/ Today Is My Birthday (1991) was staged posthumously in 1991. All these performances were related by an interest in the lower order of things, the material nature of the most ordinary objects, through which Kantor intermediated his perception of the world. Although he was probably inspired by the narratives of Bruno Schulz (1892-1942), he more prominently reflected his own memories and ideas, thus turning the performance into his own personal authorial manifestation. Kantor's artistic activity at that time was connected with theatre production. In 1975 he created a series of paintings also titled Umarła Klasa/ Dead Class. He returned to painting in the late 1980's. His last works were connected by a strongly personal reflection of a lonely figure making a theatrical gesture, exhibiting a formal style of New Figuration (the Dalej już nic/ After This Nothing series, 1987-88). In 1989, Tadeusz Kantor was vested the title Commandeur/ Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres/ The Order of Arts and Letters. A year later he received Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland/ The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his contribution to contemporary European and German culture.


Tadeusz Kantor (solo exhibition, London)


Documenta 6 (group exhibition, Kassel)



Europalia Oostenrijk (group exhibition, Ghent)


Where you stay, Revolution? (group exhibition, Bochum)


Aus der Sammlung (group exhibition, Nuremberg)


The Interrupted Life (group exhibition, New York (NY))


Polnische Malerei Seit 1945 (group exhibition, Delmenhorst)
Lyon, Łódź : Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 1931-1992 (group exhibition, Lyons)


Fluxus und Happening der 60er und 70er Jahre (group exhibition, Bad Münstereifel)
Tadeusz Kantor. Rysunki z lat 1947-1990 (solo exhibition, Poznań)
Tadeusz Kantor (solo exhibition, Strasbourg)


In Between : Art. From Poland, 1945 - 2000 (group exhibition, Chicago (IL))
The Foksal Gallery's Deposit (group exhibition, Warsaw)
Accrochage (group exhibition, Bad Münstereifel)
Tentatives d`évasion I (group exhibition, Paris)
Tadeusz Kantor: Impossibile (solo exhibition, Warsaw)


Europe. Art of the 60s (group exhibition, Karlsruhe)


LOVE/HATE (group exhibition, Kraichtal)
Tadeusz Kantor - Art and Memory (solo exhibition, Prague)


Les Trois mousquetaires (group exhibition, Nancy)


Von Spitzweg bis Baselitz - Streifzüge durch die Sammlung Würth (group exhibition, Künzelsau)
Egocentric, Immoral, Outmoded (group exhibition, Warsaw)
Tadeusz Kantor - Interior of the Imaginatio (solo exhibition, Warsaw)
Das unmögliche Theater (group exhibition, Vienna)


In Poland, That Is Where? (group exhibition, Warsaw)
Sztuka XX Wieku (group exhibition, Warsaw)


Raum - Orte der Kunst - AdK (group exhibition, Berlin)
Asteism - Joke and authority (group exhibition, Warsaw)
MAMIDŁO - Exhibition in 3 Parts (group exhibition, Warsaw)
Papiers d’artistes (group exhibition, Brest)
Dowcip i władza sądzenia. Asteizm w Polsce (group exhibition, Poznań)
Fluxus East. Fluxus Networks in Central Eastern Europe (group exhibition, Berlin)


OK! Wyspiański (group exhibition, Kraków)
Peripheral vision and collective body (group exhibition, Bolzano)
Ad Absurdum. Energies of the Absurd from Modernism till Today (group exhibition, Herford)



Small is Big (group exhibition, Warsaw)
Century of Relativity. Permanent Exhibition of 20th Century Fine Arts (group exhibition, Olomouc)


Muzeum umění Olomouc 2011-2022