Wanda Czelkowska

Born 1930 in Brześć, Poland.

In 1949, Wanda Czelkowska started to study sculpture on the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. During her studies, she collaborated with renown modernist Polish sculptor Xawery Dunikowski on “Monument to the Liberation of the Region of Warmia and Mazury” (1954) in Olsztyn. Thereby the beginning of her career – working with monumental, socialist, martyrological sculptures – was similar to those of other Polish women sculptors of the time like Alina Ślesińska or Alina Szapocznikow. In 1954 she defended her diploma.

In 1963 she had her first solo show in Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków, a place where the Second Kraków Group (that Czelkowska joined in 1967) used to exhibit works of its members. This formation was an avant-garde group continuing the tradition of the First Kraków Group (1933-37). While the members of the First Kraków Group with their interest in expressionism, abstractionism and cubism and a leftist world-view were such artistic personages as among others, Sasza Blonder, Berta Grünberg, Maria Jarema and Jonasz Stern, the members of the second created in 1957 was (among the others) Jerzy Bereś, Tadeusz Kantor, Jadwiga Maziarska, Jerzy Nowosielski, Maria Pinińska-Bereś and Erna Rosenstein. As part of her first solo show in Krzysztofory, Czelkowska presented, among other works, the sculpture “Players” (1963). This sculpture, the artist liked to present as figurative “primitivism,” similarly her other sculptures from the first part of the 1960’s.

In this time she made the main theme of her art the ‘Head’, that remained, although getting more and more abstract, the core of her practice during the next decades. In the late 1960’s numerous sculptures called “Head” were getting more abstract-organic and were incorporated into large scale installations such as “Table” (1969-1972). At the same time Czelkowska explored the technique of drawings and her own mixed techniques that she treats as sculpture. In 1972 on Edinburgh Festival she presented “The Conceptual Information About the Table”. In the beginning of the 1970’s Czelkowska sought for conceptualization in her work and the most
important problem in her thinking about sculpture became a presence of space itself. A striking example of this concept was the work “Wall” (1975) and even more radical in its name and form “Absolute Elimination of the Sculpture as a Notion of Shape” (project from 1972, produced in 1995).

In the late 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s Czelkowska worked more with a monumental drawings on canvas that she treats in the terminology of
sculpture (“Bird” 1978, “Elegy” 1990) and installation that sometimes incorporate wooden semi-architectonical structures (“The Evening Full of Grains”, 1993). She developed these semi-architectonical thinking in site-specific projects such as “Park Sculpture Enclosed” (1996) or “Wall” (1996). One of her late works is spatial reinterpretation of Kazimir Malevich’s “The Black Square” called “The End of the Century or the Straight Infinite Line” (1996-1997).

Wanda Czelkowska is now working on her solo show “Retrospection” in Polish National Museum, Warsaw.

Text by Ewa Opalka, April 2016