Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) is best known as a theatre director, yet he was much more than that. In his own words, he was a “total artist”; an avant-garde visionary who – alongside his directing work – channelled his creative energy as a painter, stage designer, poet, actor and ‘happener’.
Born in Galicia, Kantor graduated from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where he would spend much of his life. During the wartime German occupation of Kraków, he founded the experimental Underground Independent Theatre, which carried out clandestine bedroom performances. Later, in 1948, he co-organised the first Exhibition of Modern Art in Kraków, and used the opportunity to display his nascent visual art – a series of metaphorical paintings in which nightmarish fragments of memories explode onto the canvas. Disillusioned by socialist realist doctrine, Kantor retired from visual art, instead focusing on theatre, primarily through his experimental Cricot 2 theatre company, formed in 1955. This was where he pioneered aspects of his characteristic set design, including the use of mannequins and ‘emballages’ (the wrapping of objects, such as black bags, on actors’ bodies). Cricot 2 was also the home of Kantor’s best-known production, The Dead Class.
Often challenging, Kantor’s dynamic creative output toys with reality in unexpected and unique ways. The result, paradoxically enough, has been to popularise concepts and works that had previously been considered difficultly dense (such as the absurdist plays of Witkacy, the Polish interwar writer, artist and playwright). In this respect, we can understand the significance of the artist; how, in the words of one curator, “Kantor is to Polish art what Joseph Beuys was to German art and what Andy Warhol was to American art.”
In collaboration with Rich Mix and Dash Arts, we invite you to enjoy Europeans: Tadeusz Kantor, an evening of film, conversation and performance inspired by the legacy of Tadeusz Kantor.
EUROPEANS: TADEUSZ KANTOR
See Tadeusz Kantor’s legacy through film, performance and conversation; watch interviews with Kantor and footage of his shows, hear about him through UK artists and producers who worked with him and see his impact on theatre and galleries across Europe with performances from contemporary artists.