From Lenin to John Paul II: The State of Research on the Work of Marian Konieczny and a Few Remarks Upon His Religious Sculptures

Lechosław LameńskiThe Catholic University of Lublin

Abstract:

Marian Konieczny (born in 1930) is a very controversial figure in the history of the monumental Polish sculpture of the second half of the 20th century. A student of Ksawery Dunikowski and a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Leningrad, a member of the Polish United Workers’ Party, the vice-chancellor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, an MP to the communist Parliament, he has never enjoyed respect or interest of art critics and historians despite being the author of a number of monuments. The researchers writing on Polish memorial sculpture ignored him pointedly, not being able to forgive him the authorship of The Monument of Warsaw Heroes in Warsaw (1964), The Memorial of Revolutionary Struggle in the Rzeszów Region in Rzeszów (1973) or Stanisław Wyspiański Monument in Kraków (1981).

Despite all his detractors, this very industrious, talented and versatile sculptor, whose preferred mode of expression is realistic, after the dramatic political change of 1989 not only did not disappear from Polish artistic life, but keeps on winning competitions and receiving commissions for new memorials, including religious ones. His works include, among others, the monumental Royal Epitaph for the Metropolitan Cathedral in Poznań (1995) and John Paul II Monument in front of the basilica in Licheń (1999).

An objective examination of the biography and oeuvre of Marian Konieczny and similar artists is indispensable for the full picture of the Polish monumental sculpture of the 20th and early 21st century.

keywords: Marian Konieczny, monumental memorial sculpture, academic art, realism, sacred art

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Writing about Marian Konieczny’s sculpture is not easy. Despite the fact that the artist has turned 80 (he was born on 13 January 1930), and the most important part of his oeuvre is a number of memorial designs, both completed and left at the model stage, dozens of busts and other compositions (bas-reliefs, medals and more personal works, created out of his own internal motivation, mostly not exhibited), one would be hard pressed to find serious articles written by leading critics and art historians, discussing in a balanced and objective way the artist’s achievements as a sculptor. First of all, there are no books analysing his art in its entirety and allowing to establish Marian Konieczny’s place and role in the history of Polish memorial sculpture of the 20th century. Before I will attempt to discuss the few religious motifs in artist’s work, it is worth considering who this controversial man is and what image of him we can draw on the basis of scarce literature on him.

The reason for a certain aversion towards Konieczny is his life, and to be more precise, the fact that this peasants’ son from Jasionów near Brzozów (currently in the podkarpackie province) very early joined the Polish United Workers’ Party, which in opinion of many experts on contemporary Polish sculpture helped him both in his political career (he was a Member of the 8th and 9th Parliament in the communist Poland in 1980–1989) as well as in his professional and artistic life (among others in 1972–1981 he was the vice-chancellor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków in 1972–1981). His membership in the communist party gave him – according to his numerous detractors – lucrative commissions for some of the most prestigious memorials in Poland and all over the world. Apart from that, the leading representatives of Polish artistic life could not forgive Marian Konieczny his Lenin Monument in Nowa Huta (1973), The Memorial of the Liberation of Częstochowa – The Freedom Soldier in Częstochowa (1968), The Memorial of Revolutionary Struggle in Rzeszów Region in Rzeszów (1973) or finally Aleksander Zawadzki Monument in Dąbrowa Górnicza (1979) and the circumstances connected with the competition for Stanisław Wyspiański Monument in Kraków (1981). Many people professionally associated with the arts felt envy because he won a competition and completed in 1982 the monumental Memorial to the Victory of the Algerian Revolution in Algiers (also known as The Martyrs Memorial), whose main part is 94.5 metres high. In a word, a significant number of people interested in the memorial sculpture in Poland were of the opinion that Marian Konieczny was an artist at the communist authorities’ service, whose work in the field of the memorial sculpture was a more or less conscious legitimization of their power. Critics would not or could not write about his sculptural work outside of the whole political context which has been tragically overshadowing his achievements in the field of monumental sculpture during the last few decades. Critics accused also Marian Konieczny’s memorials of being too literal, his figures lacking in finesse and individualism, his shapes being too symbolic and hewn too roughly. The artist has also been accused of not doing formal experiments as often as other contemporary sculptors. His opponents have also been irritated by the fact that he seemed to disregard the changes which have been taking place in this field at least since the 1870s, working consistently in the style and manner typical for the 19th-century academic sculpture.

Translated by Monika Mazurek


[1]Artyści o pomniku. Dlaczego robiłem pomniki? Dlaczego pomników nie robiłem?, in: “Rocznik Rzeźby Polskiej” 1989 – “Pomnik”, pp. 7–8.

[2] Ibidem, p. 8.

[3] Od Autorów, in: A. Osęka, W. Skrodzki, Współczesna rzeźba polska, [Warszawa 1977], p. 5.

[4] W. Skrodzki, Dzieła i poszukiwania, in: A. Osęka, W. Skrodzki, Współczesna rzeźba polska, [Warszawa 1977], pp. 29–30.

[5] L. Grabowski, Rzeźba polska po II wojnie światowej, Warszawa [1970], p. 17.

[6] A. Woźniak, Marian Konieczny – twórcza rzetelność i konsekwencja, in: “Akcent”, 2009, no. 4 (118), p. 58.

[7] Ibidem.

The full text of the article was published in the pages of "Sacrum et Decorum" III, 2010. Please send your orders to the University of Rzeszów Publishers or activate an electronic subscription.