October 14, 2012
Exhibition: 1000 ans des Juifs en Pologne
A thousand years is a lot of time. The relations between Jews and Poland have always been complex. Last week in Paris there was an opening of an exhibition that aims at showing the Jews in Poland over the last 1000 years. A suicidal task if you do not have enough resources, creativity and space.
The exhibition was supposed to open at six. At 6:15 there are still people running around as the microphones do not work. There is no extension cord, no stand for the mike. Nobody is too much stressed though. Finally the speeches begin. The director of the College Jérôme Beau talks about the importance of the venue for this kind of exhibition, he is followed by the head of the Polish Cultural Institute in Paris Klaudia Podsiadło and finally the ambassadors of Israel in France and Poland in France have chance to say some words. Yossi Gal formed his speech around certain complexity of the Polish-Jewish relationship whereas hi Polish counterpart Tomasz Orłowski was talking about the richness of the Polish-Jewish relations. “It is a lesson of richness” he was underlining. He mentioned as well that at times Poles were not sensitive enough towards what the Jewish communities needed. Both diplomats could not forget about Shoah. Applause, given by a mostly older audience, and we can proceed to the posters.
Saying that the exhibition is modest is a compliment. There are over 60 stands that are marked with many years of use, on which posters were attached. The simplicity of the exhibition is utterly painful. Here we start, this is how Poland came into existance, this is what happened later and those are the Jewish communities today. It seems that the organisers have missed the recent developments in exhibition trends. Or at least they have heard about them, but were not sure how to implement them. For example there are two beamers that show pictures of Jews living in Poland. There are some short movies as well, but all that is placed up high and which makes it absolutely uncomfortable to watch. Not to mention reading the subtitles (in French only).
How about the posters per se? They are dull. It seems that all the pictures and maps have been extracted from the history text books from the 90'. Do not expect more than just texts and pictures. It is not really an exhibition, it is more of a book printed on large pieces of paper and hang around a room. In relation to that, it is highly informative, but just imagine reading over 60 pages of text standing in front of crude charts. Even the layout is topsy-turvy, which does not make it easy to follow. It appears that the organisers have never tried to walk along all the posters and read them. And if the exhibition is extremely linear, I do not object to this idea, it should be a pleasure to follow and read. This unfortunately is not the case here.
The answer to the problems comes quicker than one could have thought. I was given a booklet related to the exhibition (the person that was handing it to me was an absolutely charming staff person of the Polish Cultural Institute) to collect it home. To my deepest terror, on the first page there is a date: 2004 and the whole booklet presents nothing else than all the posters and duly the same text. Two birds killed with one stone, apparently. Obviously, it is easier to just take a ready-made, magnify it and voilà, we have an exhibition. Given the date of publication, the material has been gathered some 10 years ago. Indeed, for 1000 years of history it does not really make a big change, but for the way of exhibiting definitely yes.
Certain doubts concerning the diligence have came up as on the third poster it appears that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was in war with its neighbours: Turkey, Russia and Switzerland. Somebody must have spotted the mistake in a very last moment, used a pen to cross “Switzerland” and wrote “Sweden” in a barely readable handwriting. However, in the mentioned booklet there are no errors. Secondly, given that Paris enjoys a lot of tourists, Jewish as well, at least some care could have been given to the translations. The exhibition is entirely in French, with not even a synopsis in English. If it talks about the Jews in Poland, it would be easy to imagine that perhaps some non French speakers would be interested. Well, apparently this was beyond imagination.
The Museum of Polish Jews is supposed to open in Warsaw. The insitution already catches a lot of media attention and will certainly be an extremely important event for the whole Jewish world. What was the reason of showing the 1000 years of history of Jews in Poland in Paris? It seems that the organisers wanted to bite more that they can chew and tackle an extremely complex topic with a slightly outdated pictures taken from a book. A terrible showcase of the lack of creativity and care.