Magdalena Wiecek (1924-2008) was born in Katowice (Poland), a steel city in Silesia that forever marked her taste and her experimentation with industrial materials. South-ern Poland was her springboard: a childhood that led from industrial progress to the devasta-tion of war helped to shape her vital artistic spirit and courage to take risks in her work. At a moment when visas to leave the country were in short supply, Wiecekʼs art was the source of her freedom, using work as a passport to travel around the world. She masterfully developed a universal language endowed with her own sense of narrative poetics: abstract and timeless, yet present and urgent — provoking with illusions, never settled with memories . To understand this unique style, to understand Wiecekʼs grand achievements in art and foundation in philosophy, we must travel with her through the twentieth-century Poland in which she flourished.
While little information remains about Magdalena Wiecekʼs childhood, her early works — those prior to the outbreak of World War II — indicate that her passion in youth was paint-ing. Excitement for that technique, which she dominated with ease until the end of her life, led her to study in the 40s at the brand new State Institute of Plastic Arts in Sopot. At the Institute, though, she transitioned almost immediately to the Sculpture Department. Directed by Marian Wnuk, the Department was based on the pre-war curriculum, in which sculpture was closely
connected with architecture and focused largely on historical monumental forms. The style, in many ways, marked a continuation of the Tadeusz Breyer program — static, monumental, and respectful to old art and ancient techniques. But there was a painful disjuncture between this reverential style and the state of the world as Wiecek lived it: students arrived to the Depart-ment from desolated post-war contexts that , in most of the cases, implied a poor education. So, instead of ʻhow to create,ʼ their professors taught them ʻhow to lookʼ. Wiecek, as many artists of what became to be called “the Sopot School”, retained a large amount of inner autonomy, developing sharp and innovative techniques to communicate her own subjective truth. Magda-lena Wiecek was the first non-figurative sculptor in her context, a tendency already visible in her painting and very appreciated by critics such as Porebski and Tesseyer.
Więcek made her debut in the 1950s when, along with young sculptors like Alina Szapocznikow or Alina Ślesińska, she presented a new style of sculpture to the world — figura-tive and expressive, full of emotion and lyricism. Set against the Stalinist period, this new sculp-ture marked a radical departure from the more representative sculpture in Soviet propaganda. Although Magdalena remained scarred by socialist realism for much of her life, the treatment of the body in her work – emotional and expressive – was entirely new. She exhibited in the first
half of the 1950s at Zachęta at the National Art Exhibitions, and in 1955, she took part in the Young Art Exhibition at the Arsenal. By this time,the artist was living in Warsaw -a city that would become a source of inspiration for her work and a sense of home in her life, although
she also lived in Paris, Berlin, New York. She married Marian Wnuk, leaving behind the univer-sity years and developing a strong artistic bond: they were rather colleagues by profession; both Wiecek and Wnuk were very independent in their creations and working dynamics. They
shared this bold independence with an entire generation that, surviving war, found inspiration in existentialism and artistic individualism.
Wiecek buried the roots of her inspiration in classical art, connecting too with the fantas-tic imaginary of Neolithic and Eskimo cultures, and creating an own version of their arts. Influ-enced also by the decó-traditionalist style of Dunikowski, the formist Pronaszko, the constructivist Group AR and by the neoplasticists Kobro and Sztreminski, her compositions nevertheless destroyed the montage, sometimes with Cubist framings or dramatizations, sometimes with aquatic mobility and always with a peculiar tactile sensation. Never imitative, Wiecekʼs sculp-tures display her desire to enter into open spaces and capture their inner shape with a monu-mental sense, setting off mass and space, tending towards Chillida and Ernst.
She started first her revolution with her first individual exhibition at Galeria Krzywe Koło in Warsaw (1958). Krzywe Koło was an independent initiative started and run by the artist Marian Bogusz. As a gallery, it showed works by cutting edge artists. As a klub, it concentrated
intellectuals from all disciplines that focused in defining modernity. As a space opened to cross-disciplinary discussions that included art, sociology, history, literature and science, Krzywe Koło grounded an experimental form of a gallery program.
Wiecekʼs solo exhibition was a paragon of the klubʼs mode of modernist experimenta-tion. In it, she broke with realism: her sculptures stood denuded , simplified, industrialized. She had several shows at the Krzywe Kolo, entering frequently into a dialogue with Stefan Gierow-kiʼs paintings. But Wiecek did not simply belong to the established art world of Warsaw. She also cheerfully extended it to her surroundings: she became very active in the movement to define a new form of Central European contemporary art. She participated in all the representative
exhibitions of her time, events in which Wiecek spotlighted with her art, and strengthened friendships with critics and artists of all kind, not only limited to Poland, but distributed through-out Central Europe and the United States.
Famous for her charisma and generosity, her fluency in French and German, and her endless artistic passion, Wiecek was an artist who did the impossible to get materials for her work in a period of harsh communist rationing. She daily frequented workshops to transfer her ideas into pieces of art — to the astonishment of the workers. Over time, she developed a repu-tation abroad, where she baked in the freedom of sharing her expansive work. Her studio during the day was something in between a laboratory and a workshop, governed by strict schedules that started at dawn, earning the morning light to work and the best hours for her creativity. Bynights, she was an intellectual about town, and her studio often hosted parties or openings, occasionally even to show just one piece, perhaps the last one that she had been working on. Wiecek herself, and the home she created, became a hub in Warsawʼs thriving mid-century scene. Late in her career, after many years of energetic innovation, she made it to the Biennale of Spatial Forms in Elbląg, the gold standard of modern sculpture. There, she created expansive sculptures in the open air — metal constructions endowed with movement, clashed between textures, light and completely abstract. A convention started in 1965 that remained faithful until the end.
Today, Madalena Wiecekʼs legacy lives on: from the timelessness of her works emanate universal lessons of poetry, subtlety and experimentation. Wiecek was an outstanding sculptor, co-creator of the modern trend in Polish sculpture. She helped to deliver her country into the European avant-garde and revolutionized Polish artistic pedagogy for good.