The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw presents the first retrospective exhibition of the Albanian painter Edi Hila, one of the last neglected masters from Eastern Europe.

Edi Hila was born in Shkodra in 1944, and lives and works in Tirana. He was educated in his native Shkodra, a city with ancient beginnings, known as the cultural capital of Albania. During his studies in the 1960s he experimented timidly with deformation. In 1972 he painted Planting of Trees, a pleasant picture rendered slightly unreal through the use of color, which because of its departure from the approved social realist doctrine soon became a pretext for ordering him to work in a factory as punishment. But before the communist authorities took offence and doomed his chances for practicing art in official circles, he managed to arrange a brief visit to Florence in 1973, where he was sent as a promising artist and scenographer for Albanian television. Contact with the Florentine museums and Renaissance painting had a huge impact on Hila, but he soon realized that such artistic inspirations and strivings were simply dangerous in a country ruled by a brutal regime. For his departure from social realism Hila was sent to work for three years at a poultry plant where his main task was hauling sacks. In the evenings he secretly created a series of drawings documenting the life of the workers (the “Poultry” series, 1974–1977), harrowing in their raw realism. In the 1990s, seeking a path back to painting, Hila carefully observed life evolving after the fall of Enver Hoxha’s regime and tried to depict the realities of the Albanian transformation. The groundbreaking series “Comfort” (1997) captures the insatiable consumer utopia promised to the society. Hila created the series in response to the dramatic crisis caused by the collapse of financial pyramid schemes which drove the country into chaos, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 people and intervention by UN forces.

Hila primarily works in series treating a selected theme over several paintings. The most important of Hila’s series include “Paradox” (2000–2005), “Relations” (2002–2014), “Threat” (2003–2009), “Roadside Objects” (2007–2010), “Penthouses” (2013), “Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard” (2015) and “Tent on the Roof of a Car” (2017). The realism of his painting is distinct, based on careful observation of detail, which he exploits to convey the psychological truth of the observed phenomenon.

Hila carefully selects the themes for his painting series. In his version, this strips the transformation in Eastern Europe of accident or adventure typical of many presentations of this time, and gives it the weight of distilled general truths, as if he were its final chronicler. One of the reasons for such radical reduction may be Hila’s leaning toward classicism, a fascination with Renaissance sources of painting. It is as if modernism has evaporated from his field of interest. This is why the transformation, in collision with the classical tradition of painting and balance understood in the distant spirit of the Renaissance, conveys so clearly the disruption and attack on harmony and order. On the other hand, it is rooted in human dilemmas that are hard to conceal, even with a veneer of modernization.

Edi Hila is also an influential teacher; he was formerly a professor at the Tirana Academy of Fine Arts. Some of his students, such as Anri Sala and Adrian Paci, have gone on to international success. Another former student of Hila’s is the current Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, an artist who drew international attention to the country in the early 2000s when, as Mayor of Tirana, he had the dreary residential buildings repainted in abstract color compositions.


Curatorial team:
Kathrin Rhomberg, Erzen Shkololli, Joanna Mytkowska

Project management:
Aleksandra Nasiorowska, Joanna Turek, Szymon Żydek

Exhibition architecture:
Büro Meyer-Grohbrügge

Graphic design:
Jakub Jezierski

English translation:
Christopher Smith

Jakub Antosz, Marek Franczak, Piotr Frysztak, Józef Górski, Szymon Ignatowicz, Jan Jurkiewicz, Paweł Sobczak, Sebastian Powierża, Marcin Szubiak, Maciej Turowski, Michał Ziętek, Sebastian Żwirski

Sylwia Borowska, Anna Gajek, Martyna Gart, Anna Tryc-Bromley, Meagan Down, Marta Hekselman, Dominika Jagiełło, Wiktor Kazimierczak, Michał Kożurno, Agnieszka Kosela, Marta Maliszewska, Marta Skowrońska-Markiewicz, Bartosz Stawiarski, Marta Styczeń, Kacha Szaniawska, Katarzyna Szotkowska-Beylin, Katia Szczeka, Michał Szymko, Iga Winczakiewicz, Katarzyna Witt, Daniel Woźniak

Silva Agostini, Sébastien Carvalho, Rigels Halili

Exhibition prepared by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in cooperation with the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana and the Kontakt Collection in Vienna