In terms of domestic history, few subjects have been covered in as much depth as Warsaw’s cataclysmic destruction and subsequent rebuilding.
However, this exhibition should not be considered a repeat of all that have come before. Unique in many ways, its focus instead spotlights the role of rubble – from how it was removed in the early days, to how it was reconstituted to form building materials. With this angle used as the narrative core, the direction taken is thoroughly unorthodox.
Left buried under 22 million cubic metres of rubble, we learn how the city’s outlook towards it evolved over time. First considered a waste material that needed to be removed, it later came to be reassessed and used for rebuilding. “Ultimately,” says curator Adam Przywara, “rubble became a symbol of hard collective labour – it showed that there was a bright future for Warsaw and the entire country.”
As expected, lumps of brick and shattered stone abound, but these are offset by more visually enticing artefacts such as fragmented stove tiles extracted from the ruins of the Old Town, Royal Castle and Saski Palace, as well as, towards the end, staggeringly beautiful porcelain tableware.
In between, visitors will also view a typical smock worn by labourers, a modern art installation crafted from tangled cables, and dramatic paintings by such Socialist Realist luminaries as Wojciech Fangor.
In all, 500 relics can be found spread across seven rooms, but it is not these that are most compelling, rather the archive photographs and accompanying text boards.
Absorbing in every respect, the ensuing images and words narrow in on different topics – from the role of women to favoured demolition methods. Equally fascinating, pause also to take in a map of buildings created from rubble-concrete: for instance, the Ministry of Development and Technology at Trzech Krzyży Square.
With Warsaw’s Old Town celebrating its 70th anniversary of reconstruction later this year, this exhibition comes at just the right time. By offering a fresh and novel perspective on a topic that has already been widely broached, the Museum of Warsaw delivers an impactful experience high on educational insights. This is not to be missed.
What: Warsaw 1945-1949: Rising from Rubble
When: 30 March – 3 September 2023
Where: Museum of Warsaw (Rynek Starego Miasto 32)
Price: PLN 20 / PLN 15 (concessions), free on Thursday