The origins of Zachęta can be traced back to 1860, when the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts was founded in Warsaw (at the time when the city was located within the Russian partition zone). As a civic initiative it was intended to promote art for the mutual benefit of both artists and society at large. The Society set for itself the task of organizing exhibitions, purchasing works of art in order to create a national collection, and assisting young artists. With the purpose of stimulating an interest in art within the community, the Society granted prizes to the public in the form of prints. In the years 1898-1900, as the combined result of a skillful move by its board of managers and significant contributions from the public, the Society was able to erect a building for its headquarters. An urban palace in eclectic style was constructed according to a the design by Stefan Szyller and decorated with a sculpted fronton with the Latin inscription ARTIBUS (‘TO THE ARTS’).
The history of the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts is the shared history of the success of both artists and art-lovers, and it is the tradition that Zachęta actively seeks to foster today. Visible signs of its success include the splendid building with its exhibition rooms, its permanent collections, library, as well as its role in organizing Polish artistic life at a time when no other galleries or museums existed in Warsaw. It witnessed a struggle between conservative art supported by the adherents of traditional taste, on the one hand, and the path-breaking impulses of revolutionary new art and its supporters on the other. Zachęta’s history has been marked by grand emotion and scandal, as well as by an incident of significance for the nation, namely the assassination of Gabriel Narutowicz, the first President of the Second Polish Republic, on 16th December 1922, in Zachęta’s exhibition halls.
Although its building was one of the few to survive in Warsaw’s city center after the destruction of the Second World War, Zachęta as an institution changed immensely. Its rich collections of art have been placed in deposit at the National Museum in Warsaw, where they now constitute the heart of the Gallery of Polish Art. The space vacated at Zachęta was occupied by a newly created Central Bureau of Artistic Exhibitions. After the political transformations of 1989, Zachęta became the Zachęta State Gallery of Art, returning to the noble civic goals of the original Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts. Once again, it is dedicated to the enrichment of the nation’s social and cultural life, seeking to develop art at home and to promote it abroad.
Zachęta Gallery was founded with the aim of the promotion of the Fine Arts. Its primary current mission is the presentation and promotion of contemporary art. Zachęta organises individual and group exhibitions of Polish and overseas’ artists, as well as theme exhibitions. Zachęta’s curators are also the organisers of exhibitions of Polish art abroad. The space reserved for the promotion of young generation artists is the Mały Salon. In addition, the gallery organises symposiums, problem discussions, workshops and promotional meetings, auctions, concerts and other events accompanying exhibitions. The organisation and co-ordination of these events is carried out by the education department. Zachęta makes available to visitors a wide access to information about art on the internet by means of the netforum, where internet art projects are also presented. In the rich collections of the library are to be found books in the fields of the history and theory of art, art criticism, catalogues of exhibitions taking place in Poland and abroad, and art magazines. The documentation department possesses an extensive documentation of exhibitions organised at Zachęta and also gathers information about the work of Polish artists active post 1945 both in Poland and abroad. The publications’ department annually publishes about 20 catalogues, and also smaller publications such as pamphlets, which are available in the artistic bookshop. The bookshop also has on offer albums, books and magazines dedicated to art of various types. The Zachęta Gallery, as far as the bounds of possibility and the generosity of donors allows, also collects works of art. The collectjon is available for loan to temporary exhibitions in Poland or overseas.
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