10/25/2013 12:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

(R)evolution in Krakow: Matta (& His Polish Catalysts) for the 21st Century

Penetrating through the confinement of verbal language into Matta's evolved vocabulary of inner space: "Matta: Man and Universe" at the National Museum in Krakow

"Matta: Man and Universe," curated by Marga Paz at The National Museum in Krakow, is an exhibition for the 21st century.

With a design illuminated both externally and within, the exhibition's black borders contain an eye-popping psychedelic view in which inner and outer connect: body, mind and emotions are propelled into an immediacy of a 21st century archetype, the unity between spirit and matter.

Matta: Man and Universe is a superb reflection of the populist Gravity cinematic phenomenon -- whereas the universal enters a cyclical narrative via astronauts orbiting from one nation's space station to another in a quest for human survival from man-made catastrophe.

Paz's psychedelic view into the artist's probing into inner space added the unexpected element of sound, a NASA space mission, as an uncanny connection between the inner space probed by Matta's visionary Mobius strip and outer space visually illuminated to humanity catalyzed by the 1999 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope orbit.

Where the mechanical and nature meet in a singular vision of energy as cyclically self-sustaining: Roberta Matta "Frenzied Daisy Petals" (1961)

The four paneled 1966 Cycle Series (below) is a revelation of the visionary's preoccupation with a new paradigm of cyclical motion: all life on the planet, reflecting the planet itself, in a cyclical orbit of life/death/rebirth.

At the grand lobby entrance to the museum (below), Alfred Lenica's "Chile, Chile" reflects the echoes of Matta's political commitment -- and influence on Polish art.

Dedicated to Matta and the Chilean people, "Chile, Chile" was a response to Lenica's experience with Matta in his native country prior to the military coup that toppled the Allende experiment.

Chile's blood circulates into roses, the surrealist symbol for Eros, empowering a regeneration that comes from deep within the earth. Perhaps only those who live in a land (as I did at the epicenter of the 2010 Chilean earthquake just months before it struck) where the earth trembles with unexpected regularly can truly appreciate the transformational power of the earth's kundalini.

Roberto Matta's "Hommorbis Convulsivo" (1973) depicts a vocabulary of self-sustaining cyclical motion integrating 20th century polarities of style (objective vs. subjective) via the marriage of the primordial figure with the technological machine.

Lenica (1899 Pabianice -- 1977 Warsaw) belonged to a circle of artists associated with Tadeusz Kantor's underground theater in Krakow, which was also greatly influenced by Matta.

Kantor's "Zero Theater Manifesto" reveals the influence of the Chilean artist's inner vision of the dynamic self-sustaining anima mundi discounted by western thought.

The movement in the opposite direction: d o w n w a r d s into the realm b e l o w,


which is possible by elimination,



reduction of energy,


(the movement) in the direction of e m p t i n e s s,




And the only chance to t o u c h u p o n r e a l i t y!

The symptoms of this process are momentous

Pragmatic forms of life cease to be binding,

a creative process loses its sacred status and allegedly its only function - to create

- which has become nothing more than a burden.

An object loses its meanings which were thoughtlessly assigned to it.

its symbolism -

and reveals its


empty (according to standard opinions) existence. The creative process becomes

the realization of the impossible.

Tadeusz Kantor's "Zero Theater Manifesto" in "Radical Languages 7-9.12.2012" Radykaine Jezyki, ed. Cricoteka, Krakow, p. 71

Kantor's text describes the dynamism between form/formlessness and empty/fullness within Matta's architectural vision of interconnectedness to create a new form of being, illuminated in "Centaur of the Sun" (below).

Detail of Roberto Matta's "Centaur of the Sun" (1981)

Following the visit to the National Museum of Krakow, the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) post-2013 Congress Tour in Krakow continued to...

The Center for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor (Cricoteka)

...where the Kantor's charged underground dynamism remains a self-sustaining Möbius Strip of the dynamism between inner/outer offering no escape...

Henry Meyric Hughes (UK) and other critics on the upper floor of Cricoteka.

... between the interweaving of Kantorian forms.


"Expressive" states appear

suddenly, caused by

some "scratches."

They build up.

Excitement, agitation, anxiety,

fury, rage, frenzy.

Suddenly, they cave in, disappear

as if sucked in

and only empty gestures remain.

-Kantor, ibid, p. 78-79

Founded by Tadeusz Kantor in 1980, Cricoteka was conceived to provide institutional support for his theater, yet became a "Living Archive," with the impresario's unique collection of works forming the basis of the center's activity.

This ongoing regeneration of energy taking place in the "underground" made for an utterly enriching cultural experience of participatory interactive theater, even on the part of detached art critics...

Marek Bartelik. President of AICA International (left) with Andrzej Szczerski, President of AICA Poland and Vice President of AICA International addressing the international critics, Edwin Rubin (center).

Kantor's theoretical papers, drawings and design works, video recordings and photographic documentation as well as thousands of reviews, journals and books fill the space. In 2014, Cricoteka will open a new center in Krakow which will continue the activities of the archive, as well as initiating research and exhibition programs on contemporary art.

The cave like space (above) reverberated with such dynamic energy that these costumes were animated with the Matta influenced Kantor vision of "The Zero Theater":


Erasing is a method which is often used in art.

The old Masters knew it well.

I am thinking about paintings. I am thinking about situations in which erasing is visible

and meaningful.

I passionately used this method in Informal Art.

When too many distracting densities of forms were squeezed into some part of a painting,

I could erase them in one move-

to the naught,

to nothingness which devoured those protruding parts.

One could say that this movement of the hand was cruel,

that it condemned, wrought destruction and eliminated those forms

from the face of the earth.

But those areas of nothingness and silence have jealously guarded the

secrets of the past epochs.

The act of erasing could also be equated with the simple act of c l e a n i n g u p,

of leaving the center of the room cleanly swept by pushing the litter and other

rubbish against the walls or into the corners and thus depriving them

of any meaning. We are just a step away from the time when this act of

e r a s i n g could be transferred onto the stage...

- Kantor, ibid, p. 78

Kantor's "living archive" demonstrated the purity of his vision of the "erased" as self-sustaining dynamic of form/formlessness and empty/fullness.

All photos by Lisa Paul Streitfeld and used with permission of the National Museum of Krakow and AICA International. The information on Cricoteka is from the program of the Polish Section of the International Association of Art Critics for the AICA post-congress, accompanying the XLIV International AICA Congress "White Places - Black Holes" in Kosice and Bratslava, Slovakia.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a member of AICA based in Berlin.