THE COLLECTION CHARACTERISTICS
What makes the main core of the collection is examples of Polish sculpture from the second half of the 20th century. 1955 was accepted as the dividing line, as it brought the end of socialist realism and a revaluation of the idea of art as subordinated to ideology. Obviously, the assumed time frame influenced the criteria for the selection of works. A turn towards the new avant-garde and artistic independence of that era caused a blurring of the notion and scope of sculpture. Beside traditional sculpting forms, artists were making objects, installations and conceptual art. Considering them to be equally legitimate artistic domains, and for the effect of maximum representation of the gathered collection, the CRP decided not to limit itself to the narrowly understood sculpting techniques. The collection enlarged according to these rules, more and more fully gave evidence of the transformations and the great complexity of artistic positions of the Polish contemporary art. Additional criteria, such as the innovative character of the work, originality of the means of expression, the artist’s landmark position at a particular historical period, all contributed to the fact that the Orońsko collection has become a unique art treasury, from which Polish and foreign curators extensively draw.
With time, certain modifications were made to the original programme premises and in the collection there appeared some earlier realizations, form the beginning of the 20th century and the inter-war period, indicating a certain continuity of sculpture in Poland.
A retrospective view of our collection gives grounds for a further expansion of our collecting aspirations. If only financial resources allow for it, the current aim is to gather a maximally representative collection of Polish sculpture of the 20th century.
It is difficult to characterize such a vast and varied collection of sculpture. Let us focus closely only on its part, on the works which best visualize certain tendencies, represent eminent artists or bear witness to their time. The oldest works come from the first decade of the 20th century. These are single examples of works realized by the classics of Polish sculpture from the turn of he century – Konstanty Laszczka and Stanisław Ostrowski. The Art Nouveau form of Konstanty Laszczka’s sculpture A Woman Sitting on a Rock immediately signals its epoch. Subtle female nudes, placed in a hostile, austere landscape in which the main role is played by fluid composition lines and dramatic emotions, this is a typical set for the sculptors from the turn of the 20th and 21st century. This motif first appeared in Auguste Rodin’s oeuvre. Laszczka himself gained fame for his sculpture Despairing Woman (1904) which paraphrased Rodin’s Danaide (1885). The woman on the rock from Orońsko is captured in the prosaic activity of combing her hair, but the composition makes the figure noble. It is idealized, melancholic and decorative, like the whole art of the Young Poland movement.
The inter-war sculpture is represented in the collection in a slightly fuller way. Works by Olga Niewska, Jacek Puget, Alfons Karny, Katarzyna Kobro, Jan Ślusarczyk, Bazyli Wojtowicz, Czesław Woźniak or Maria Jarema stylistically belong to the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, although they are dated a little later.
Katarzyna Kobro’s cast of the Girl Nude (1948) is a perfect example of the unist avant-garde. The sculpture as a universal vision of composing space was one of the postulates of artists from the circle of Władysław Strzemiński. By stripping the work of its aesthetic and metaphorical values, Kobro was pursuing a pure form, which blends into space and organizes it. Due to it, the nude has no composition dominant, all its parts are equally important. The austere formal discipline has not erased the aesthetic values of the sculpture – its softness, sensuality and inner dynamics.
The essential Orońsko collection has the character of a coherent representation of sculpting circles. It includes works of artists who played a significant role in shaping the image of Polish art in those days. Right after the war they were facing the trauma of the occupation and Holocaust, and they left us their historical testimony – works imbued with the expression of protest and a lack of consent to crime. This trend in the CRP collection is represented by works of Zofia Woźna, Bronisław Chromy, Antoni Hajdecki or Józef Szajna. The motif of mother holding a dead baby in her arms appears in Zofia Woźna’s design for the monument Oświęcim (1946) and in Bronisław Chromy’s sculpture the Oświęcim Pieta (1966).
The first post-war avant-garde movements did not pass over sculpture. A massive turn occurred from realism to modernity. In modern sculpture, figuration still dominated, but it was deforming the existing reality. We can point out the works of Stanisław Horno-Popławski, Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, Tadeusz Łodziana, Barbara Zbrożyna, Wanda Czełkowska, Józef Łukomski, Adam Procki or Ludmiła Stehn. The Orońsko collection owns Barbara Zbrożyna’s work from the series Sarcophaguses. He idea of the series arose as a result of the direct experience of a close person’s death. Yet, it was the tragic death of the Czech dissident Jan Palach that made her realize the earlier idea. The sculpture Sarcophagus in Homage to Jan Palach is a cast of the plaster original (1969). It is an expression of tribute to an individual who loses in his single-handed confrontation with the merciless history machine. Hence, the form of the sarcophagus resembles a bed of torture rather than a tomb, and the partial presence of the exhausted body is the only proof of its existence.
Post-modernist experiments led the contemporary sculptors onto very individualized paths of art which eluded any classification. There were some, who drew from the rich folk-art and traditions of the Kenar School, like Władysław Hasior, Stanisław Kulon or Antoni Rząsa.
One of the most valuable exhibits in the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture collection is Władysław Hasior’s Wizard (1970–1971). The artist made it from found, damaged and primitive objects: wood, metal, wire and glass. A typical junk collage resulted in a surprisingly poetic work, based on an intellectual association game. On the one hand, there are references to surrealistic juxtaposition of ready-mades, on the other clear anthropomorphic suggestions (face, hair, body), typical for the tradition of figuration. The whole falls into the form of a totem, or shrine, even a crucifix, which in turn evokes associations with folk religiousness and magic.
In the 60s and 70s many artists chose figural expression. The CRP owns works by Adolf Ryszka, Wiktor Gajda, Mieczysław Welter, Gustaw Zemła or Jacek Waltoś. Jacek Waltoś’ Triple Pietà (1976, 1996) touches the issue of joint feelings of people sharing one idea. The series begun in 1976 became a harbinger of the real events in the Gdansk Shipyard. In 1980 a press photograph appeared which showed Gdansk workers praying in a circle of light. In Waltoś’ work, the iconographic image of Pietà, with the lamenting and lamented figures, was limited to only one side – the lamenting one. Around a burning lamp, he placed three kneeling figures. The presence of the object of their pity and the addressee of their prayers in only symbolic, magic – it is represented by an artificial halo. The figural elements of this scene also arouse anxiety – incomplete, hallowed inside, ripped along the edge. In fact, these are only expressive human bodies, which say a lot about a lack of fulfillment, loneliness and void.
Works related to organic abstraction or geometrical art form a much smaller group. These are works created by Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, Andrzej Jocz, Olgierd Truszyński, Zbigniew Maleszewski, Tadeusz Sieklucki, Edward Łazikowski, Antoni Starczewski or Maciej Szańkowski, and others.
Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz became interested in geometric forms in the 60s and it was only an episode in his oeuvre. The Roadsign Composition was made during the famous Biennial of Spatial Forms in Elbląg in 1965. Consisting of welded metal sheets and bars, lacking in any metaphorical meaning, it astonishes with the multitude of optical perspectives. Its sole aim is the aesthetic organization of space, a mutual interplay between the structures, the existing architecture and nature. That is why the installation mirrors the horizontal rhythm of the floors of Elbląg housing estates and the vertical, elliptically increasing form of the trees growing nearby. The Orońsko work is a reconstruction of the original, diminished replica, stored at the National Museum in Warsaw.
In the 70s and 80s, art started to enjoy defying the Polish reality. Sculptors also added their pennyworth. The CRP collection has got Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz’s Muzzle a particular allegory of censorship, and several works by Jerzy Bereś, e.g. The Front and The Eye, the props of his sculptural and performance manifestations.
The artists from the Neue Bieriemiennost group, represented in the collection by the works of Marek Kijewski, Mirosław Filonik and Mirosław Bałka, created works in different spirits.
Marek Kijewski’s works, realized in duet with Małgorzata Malinowska ‘Kocur’, are a unique group. King Sigmund’s Deliberations about a Woman Who Lost Heart comes from the 80s. This grotesque transformation of the figure from the Warsaw column, was made before defining the 3S principles of the artists’ work: surfing, scanning, sampling. The new acquisitions of the CRP, including Asia – Genghis Khan’s Merciful Look (1998–2000), were made by scanning the culture-space for elements of interest and combining them into a new whole. Thus, Genghis Khan has a half-human, muscular body, whose nobility was highlighted by classical proportions and golden colours, and half-animal body with crocodile paws and a tail, painted black – for contrast. Looking at this conflict of humanity and the reptile nature, nobody will believe in Genghis Khan’s mercy.
The closer we get to our days, the more individual pursuits we encounter. At the end of the 80s and in the 90s of the 20th century, the graduates from the Warsaw studio of Grzegorz Kowalski (so called ‘Kowalnia’) took the floor. Powerful, creative individualities dominated the art scene initiating the trend of critical art, deeply engaging the artist and viewers in a socio-political dialogue. With time, this form of art was taken up by artists from other circles. In our collection it is represented by works of Paweł Althamer, Grzegorz Klaman, Robert Rumas and Dorota Nieznalska.
Paweł Althamer’s small size ceramic Self-Portrait is one of the versions of his diploma project from 1993, titled Paweł Althamer. The hyper-realistic nature of the work embarrasses with its conscious anti-aestheticism, far from the academic definition of beauty and artistry. Its totemic, primitive expression seems to derive from the artist’s journey to Africa in 1991. Later, he frequently used the motif of self-portrait in his work.
The latest acquisitions of the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture represent the 21st century art. There are many examples of individual works, which remain isolated from the pervading fads or trends. Sylwester Ambroziak’s works are worthy of our attention: Isaac’s Sacrifice carved in wood (1989) and the latest series The Innocent (2009).
The style of Sylwester Ambroziak’s sculptural works makes him impossible to be mistaken for any other contemporary artist. In the days of a turn towards new technologies, he chose the language of classical figuration. He gave his original, homogeneous tribe of androids primitive features, making them a timeless and universal symbol of humankind. Isaac’s Sacrifice is a canonical example of art where the biblical theme is only a pretext for a contemporary message. The Innocent exploits the area of childlike naiveté with a distinct tone of anxiety about the future. The principle anti-aesthetics, magnified physicality and deformation contradict the classical definitions of the beauty of human body. Ambroziak reveals human true nature – weakness of character, dominating instincts, enslavement.
The last years brought about many questions about the directions for the enlargement of the collection. What can be done when contemporary artists negate the need to create traditional sculpture? More and more sculptors, who according to a definition are graduates of Sculpture Departments of Fine Art Academies, work in other domains of art – multimedia, film, photography, computer graphics, performance. What will happen if the classical spatial objects become obsolete? This perspective obviously requires a redefinition of the collection profile.