Extraordinary works of ‘forgotten artist’ Wanda Czełkowska celebrated in new retrospective
A remote art museum in a Swiss mountain village has become the first in the world to organise an institutional retrospective of leading post-war conceptual artist Wanda Czełkowska.
Entitled ‘Art is not Rest’, the exhibition presents a curated collection of her most significant and previously unseen artworks, spanning mediums such as sculpture, photography, drawing, and painting.
Largely forgotten until recently, Czełkowska started her artistic career in the late 1950s in Krakόw, where she had earlier studied at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and went on to become a significant force in the development of conceptual art in Poland.
Prominent in the Polish avant-garde movement and a member of the Second Krakow Group of artists which included Tadeusz Kantor, Tadeusz Brzozowski, Jonasz Stern, Maria Jarema and Erna Rosenstein, Czełkowska remained artistically independent and preferred to chart her own course in her artistic practice.
Best known for her minimalism and her sculptures, among them a sculpture series called Głowy (Heads), her works remain largely unknown outside of Poland in contrast to her contemporaries Magdalena Abakanowicz and Alina Szapocznikow.
Though she defined herself as a sculptor, she also pursued painting in parallel to her sculpting work, with works from all mediums on display in the new exhibition.
The exhibition is on display at Muzeum Susch, in a village of the same name and is housed in a former 12th century monastery and brewery which was converted into an art institution and museum in 2019 by Polish art collector and entrepreneur Grażyna Kulczyk.
Established with a mission of displaying artists who have previously been overlooked, misunderstood or undervalued, Muzeum Susch has previously displayed Colombian sculptor Feliza Bursztyn, and Swiss artists Heidi Bucher and Hannah Villiger as well as several other female artists on permanent display.
Kulczyk told Euronews: “In art we still still don’t see enough appreciation for women artists. It is still the case that many institutions are managed by men who generally prefer to show men."
Czełkowska is another forgotten female brought back to centre stage by Muzeum Susch in an exhibition which divides the artist’s work into three thematic areas which she centred on in her creative practice “The Body”, “The Mind” and “The Space”.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is one of Czełkowska's most monumental installations 'Absolute Elimination of Sculpture as a Notion of Shape'.
Recreated especially for the exhibition, the display consists of 66 large flat concrete, prefab plates in two shades, and covers the floor and walls of Muzeum Susch’s largest gallery space.
Matylda Taszycka, the curator of the exhibition, told Euronews: "It's an historical moment. She imagined this piece in 1972 when she came back from her exhibition in Scotland and she produced at that time a reduced model of it…It's so monumental, so difficult, so heavy.
“It's 17 tons of concrete. And each panel weighs more than 200 kilograms. So the piece is technically very complicated to produce.”
It was for this work that Czełkowska was awarded the ‘Award of the Critique and Artistic Information Section’ by the Association of Polish Jouranlists in Krakόw. She also received two scholarships from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2001 and 2012.
In the first retrospective outside of Poland, the exhibition attempts to reveal a comprehensive overview of her career and her contribution to the development of sculpture in Europe after WWII, it also seeks to emphasise the monumental scale of the art she created.
This can be seen through another work in the exhibition, entitled “Stόł” (Table) which comprises 18 abstract, hollow sculptures arranged on a large table.
Taszyscka told Euronews: "I find that the work of women artists is often unfairly disconnected from the realm of monumental scale. There persists a challenge in envisioning that women artists possess the ambition and capability to create grandiose works."
"My intention with this exhibition was to accentuate this very ambition of an artist who fearlessly operates within this vast space and fearlessly embraces monumentality.”
The exhibition will be on display until the 26th of November 2023.