Lechosław LameńskiThe Catholic University of Lublin
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
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.
When in the late 1980s the editors of “Rocznik Rzeźby Polskiej” 1989 – “Pomnik” addressed eleven artists (among others Bronisław Chromy, Władysław Hasior, Jan Kucz, Stanisław Kulon and Gustaw Zemła), including also Marian Konieczny with the question: “Why did I do memorials? Why didn’t I do memorials?”, the artist answered “I did memorials because society required them. All the memorials I ever did or designed were made for competitions. […] The reasons for this requirement were strengthening the national memory, and integrating society through raising awareness of our common history. […] A memorial for a sculptor is his answer to society’s needs, an historical answer and the crowning of his vocation. The memorial is a big synthesis. I did a number of monuments of artists and politicians, including Lenin’s memorial. In the competitions for memorials participated dozens of sculptors, and I must have been a better professional since I won these competitions”. The journalist recording the artists’ answers asked Marian Konieczny one more question: “Are you aware of the fact that all these years you were a privileged sculptor?”, to which the artist answered: “Yes, of course. I was a member of the ruling elite in the communist Poland, I served two terms as an MP. I received also commissions for memorials and I did rather well. That was the truth”.
Probably for this reason one could search in vain in the few books dedicated entirely to contemporary Polish sculpture for any quality judgements on Marian Konieczny’s achievements in the field of the memorial sculpture, at which he excelled. In the most wide-ranging publication to date, although not aspiring to being an exhaustive review of the Polish sculpture in its entirety, an album by Andrzej Osęka and Wojciech Skrodzki Współczesna rzeźba polska [The Contemporary Polish Sculpture] (published by Arkady, Warszawa 1977) the name of Marian Konieczny is not mentioned even once. However, we can learn from two extensive essays included in this book about the memorials made by the artists born approximately at the same time as the subject of this article, among others: Władysław Hasior (born 1928), Stanisław Kulon (born 1930) or Gustaw Zemła (born 1931), and moreover a whole range of artists interested in the memorial sculpture as well, both much older and much younger than Konieczny. The omission of this artist is significant because – as the authors state – “the object of our interest is sculpture as the place for individual expression and artistic and ideological confrontation”. In contrast, the form of the artist’s sculptural (particularly memorial) works does not have much in common with such a definition of sculpture as presented by Osęka and Skrodzki. The latter wrote later on: “In the post-war period, and in particular during the last decade, in Poland were built a large number of memorials, both small and most important from the prestigious, patriotic and moral point of view. However, these structures did not contribute much to the general picture of our sculptural achievements. The dominating feature of the memorials built in our country is their vague, superficial modernity, mostly combined with elements grounded in the nineteenth-century naturalistic idea of the memorial. The result of such an attitude is their perfunctory monumentalism with the addition of veristic figural elements, mostly portrait heads or scenes in low-relief”. Although these remarks are directed towards the general condition of the Polish monumental sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s undoubtedly he also had in mind Marian Konieczny’s work.
In the early 1970s Lech Grabowski published a small book, practically a pamphlet (only twenty something pages of text), without illustrations, but bearing a promising title Rzeźba polska po II wojnie światowej [Polish Sculpture after World War II]. Unfortunately, this very serious title is not supported by meagre contents of the book. The author’s views are moderately objective; he does not divide Polish sculpture into avant-garde and traditional, but he presents the achievements of what he considers to be the most interesting sculptors in the chronological order. Grabowski notes Marian Konieczny’s presence in the Polish art market, but he changes his first name for Stanisław, confusing him with Stanisław Konieczny, a sculptor from northern Poland. However, he lists correctly his two sculptures: Warsaw Nike and The Old Strongman (although calling it The Wrestler), claiming that Konieczny “has become one of the outstanding artistic personalities of his generation”.
Also in a modest album (modest in terms of textual content, despite being lavishly illustrated) by Hanna Kotkowska-Bareja Polska rzeźba współczesna [Polish Contemporary Sculpture] (Warszawa 1974), one could search in vain for even a paragraph-length of a thorough assessment and analysis of the monumental memorial sculptures by Marian Konieczny. The author discusses thirty-two sculptors she is interested in and the selection is undoubtedly subjective. Mostly she is interested in the artists experimenting with the sculptural form in space; it is a small wonder, then, that the album did not include Marian Konieczny, associated with traditional and realistic 19th-century sculpture.
Again, in a synthetic, cross-sectional book by Andrzej K. Olszewski Dzieje sztuki polskiej 1890–1980 w zarysie [The Concise History of Polish Art 1890–1980] (Warszawa 1988) Marian Konieczny’s name is mentioned only once, and this out of necessity, when the author lists The Memorial of Revolutionary Struggle in the Rzeszów Region and mentions The Monument of Warsaw Heroes.
On the other hand, one can learn much more about Konieczny from two publications by Irena Grzesiuk-Olszewska: an article Ewolucja formy w polskiej rzeźbie pomnikowej lat 1945–80 [The Formal Evolution in the Polish Memorial Sculpture 1945–80], „Rocznik Rzeźby Polskiej” 1989 – „Pomnik”, and from a compendious and very useful book Polska rzeźba pomnikowa w latach 1945–1995 [Polish Memorial Sculpture 1945–1995] (Warszawa 1995). Admittedly, both texts are of mostly documentary and organizing character, but the author also makes some moderate quality judgements on the particular aspects of the discussed subject. A thorough bibliographic research (in particular in the local and national daily press, from which she quotes at length some of the more interesting articles and notes) helped Irena Grzesiuk-Olszewska to verify many commonplace views, and most of all to describe in an unbiased way the history of the most important memorial works, including the complicated and long history of two project competitions for The Memorial of Warsaw Heroes, which began Marian Konieczny’s great career.
It is also worth asking whether there are any book-length works devoted solely to Konieczny. The answer is that there are only three of them. The first one is very early (from the 1960s) and two published already after year 2000. Unfortunately their authors are not professional critics and art historians, but graduates of the Department of Polish Language and Literature at the Jagiellonian University, which to a large degree determines the character of their texts. Surprisingly enough, the small book by Władysław Loranc Marian Konieczny. Biografia rzeźbiarza [Marian Konieczny: A Sculptor’s Biography] (Kraków 1967) can be considered to be the most interesting of them all. It is an attempt to look at the life and work of the artist who at the moment of its publishing had been active in the art market only a little over one decade. Objectively speaking, it is a very successful attempt, well-written and absorbing, providing not only interesting information on the artist’s varied biography but also depicts his work in the context of his milieu and times he worked in. Unfortunately, this objective assessment of the author’s achievements, and indirectly, also the attitude towards Marian Konieczny, is overshadowed by the later political activity of Władysław Loranc, in particular during the martial state, when as the head of the Committee of Radio and Television in 1981–1982 he delivered his tendentious political TV talks titled Proste pytania [Simple Questions].
Only after thirty-four years, right at the beginning of the 21st century, a lavishly produced book, though with very scarce content, was published: Postacie. Przy profesorskim stoliku. Marian Konieczny [Figures. At the Professors’ Table. Marian Konieczny] (Kraków 2001). This pseudo-album contains only eight photographs depicting the busts made by Marian Konieczny of the eminent Kraków professors, who have been meeting regularly for a few decades at a separate table in the café of the Grand Hotel to discuss in their exclusive circle of friends both important and trivial matters. For nearly twenty years Marian Konieczny has been also a member of this circle (which he visits every Saturday morning). The artist decided at some point to immortalize some of his interesting interlocutors, creating in the Grand Hotel a peculiar sculpture gallery. The introduction to this publication was written by Jerzy Skrobot, primarily a writer and a radio journalist turned an art critic, and Marian Konieczny’s friend.
Jerzy Skrobot became so fascinated with Marian Konieczny and his art that a few years later he was instrumental in publishing a book Kształty pamięci. Rzecz o Marianie Koniecznym [The Shapes of Memory. About Marian Konieczny] (Kraków 2009). The book is admittedly rather peculiar. It is rather pleasing to the eye, contains numerous photographs of the artist and his works from various stages of his career as well as reminiscences of his friends, but the key text by Jerzy Skrobot is basically just a great story, full of anecdotes from the sculptor’s life, focusing on his successes and not so much on his weaknesses and failures. One could search in vain in this study for even an attempt at the objective analysis and appraisal of Marian Konieczny’s oeuvre of more than fifty years. Apparently, this very important question with all the doubts and understatements arising from it remained outside the field of vision of both the author and the publisher.
Our expectations regarding the iconographic documentation are met by the next publication Marian Konieczny. Katalog rzeźb [Marian Konieczny: Catalogue raisonné], which went already into its third printing (Kraków 1994, 2003 and 2010). It was published for the first time in the aftermath of the exhibition portraying the sculptor’s forty years of contributing to Kraków’s and Poland’s artistic life. Unfortunately, the catalogue (one of very few catalogues in case of Konieczny, who exhibits very rarely) lacks a critical introduction which would allow all the readers form their own opinion on the artist’s work. The introduction was not also included in the catalogue’s second edition, this time connected with the next exhibition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the sculptor’s artistic work. Only the third edition, accompanying the exhibition of the selected works by Marian Konieczny in the Wielopolski Palace on his 80th birthday, included an introduction by Bogusz Salwiński, a professor of the Faculty of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. This text by a former student and collaborator of the author of The Warsaw Nike includes some biographic information on his great teacher and attempts a concise characteristics of his work as well.
To complete this short review of publications on Marian Konieczny, one should mention an article by Arkadiusz Woźniak Marian Konieczny – twórcza rzetelność i konsekwencja [Marian Konieczny: Creatively Reliable and Consistent], published almost exactly on the artist’s 80th birthday by the Lublin literary and artistic quarterly “Akcent”, 2009, no. 4 (118). It is a very interesting attempt to look at and interpret the achievements of the aged sculptor by a young art historian from Rzeszów. At the same time it is as of today the most wide-ranging and the most percipient analysis of Konieczny’s work.
Despite the lack of information about the place and role of this artist in the history of Polish 20th-century sculpture we must not forget that Marian Konieczny has been also interviewed on numerous occasions (almost fifty times until 1989 and a few times in the following years, the last one in late 2009), published in the daily newspapers (mostly the organs of the regional committees of the Polish United Workers’ Party published in Katowice, Kielce, Kraków, Bydgoszcz and naturally Warsaw where “Trybuna Ludu”, later known as “Trybuna”, always favourably disposed towards the artist, was very generous to him). The editors published not only the artist’s view on his work, the state and the purposes of artistic education, the place and role of sculpture in socialist society; they also did not forget to inform their readers about the successive round birthdays of Marian Konieczny (in particular when he was the vice-chancellor of the Academy of Fine Arts and a Member of Parliament) and about the history of new monuments designed by him.
After the political and economic transformation brought about by the parliamentary election of June 1989, the daily press, and to a smaller degree also weeklies and monthlies, still express interest in Marian Konieczny and his work. This time, however, their journalists (generally, as before, few people writing on this subject are professional art critics) follow, sometimes with a detective-like passion, all the news about the demolition of some monuments by the artist (e.g. Lenin Monument in Nowa Huta, The Memorial of the Liberation of Częstochowa – The Freedom Soldier or Aleksander Zawadzki Monument in Dąbrowa Górnicza) or about moving them (the new localization of The Warsaw Nike), and also about the fortunes of the so-called unwanted works (e.g. Jan Matejko Monument, designed for Kraków, eventually was erected in a Warsaw neighbourhood). Everybody (especially journalists, critics and other artists) is intrigued about how it is possible that the author of the famous Lenin Monument (in Nowa Huta), the only such monument designed by a Polish artist in the whole fifty-odd years of People’s Republic of Poland (the Lenin in Poronin was a gift from the USSR) could also, after many years – design and build several monuments of John Paul II, including a huge statue in front of the Licheń basilica, as well as to execute The Royal Epitaph for the Metropolitan Cathedral in Poznań, a design complicated in its iconography and ideological content. It is worth noting that contrary to his detractors’ wishes, Marian Konieczny was not finished as a sculptor together with the end of the communism in Poland. He is still very active and receives commissions for memorials from numerous committees (e.g. in 1994 Bartosz Głowacki Memorial was erected in the fields near Racławice, and in 2006 the equestrian statue of Hetman Jan Zamoyski was erected in Zamość), both secular and, surprisingly enough, more and more often also the religious ones. Even though he is already 80 years old, he has retained creative vitality and passion, rarely met with at this age, sustained with impressive industriousness and self-discipline. He may be more interested now in small-scale (portrait) sculpture, but he still has many creative ideas and enough plans to keep him busy for the next few years and he still has the impelling urge to work in materials particularly close to his heart (in particular in bronze).
A religious work, absolutely exceptional in Marian Konieczny’s work – the artist is a committed atheist, although he is well-versed in the Scripture, and knows its whole fragments by heart – is the already mentioned so-called The Royal Epitaph in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Poznań from 1995 [fig. 1]. This monumental composition, 8 metres tall, cast in bronze, was executed as the winning entry in the competition announced by Towarzystwo Opieki nad Zabytkami [The Society for the Protection of Cultural Heritage] in Poznań. It is actually an extended picture in deep bas-relief, whose main characters are the local rulers: Przemysl I, Przemysl II and the Duchess Richeza. The rich iconographic programme, filling the whole surface of the epitaph with varied ornaments and occasional inscriptions (one could actually call it horror vacui), makes this work, in shape of a big single door rounded at the top, a composition both suggestive and alluding in its style and character to late Medieval works, in which every element carries hidden information and message. In this way The Royal Epitaph, created during the reign and with the permission of metropolitan archbishop of Poznań Jerzy Stroba, became an important element of the sculptural décor of the Gothic cathedral. It is located in the first chapel to the right from the main entrance, which it seems to fill completely with its elaborate mass one could almost call rapacious, without leaving its visitors any room for a moment of reflection and meditation.
The religious works of Marian Konieczny include as well St Hubert’s Monument made for the parish in Zalesie Górne, a plaque with the portrait of John Paul II for the hospital in Zamość or St Adalbert’s Monument for Gdańsk from 1997, which did not get past the model phase [fig. 4]: St Adalbert, in his bishop’s robes and wearing the mitre on his head is standing in a small boat sailing through stormy waters. His arms are spread and raised up, in his left hand he is holding a monumental cross (reaching down to water), while with his right hand he is making a triumphant V gesture (could it be an attempt to make the monument more relevant by alluding to the strike in the Lenin Shipyard in August 1980?).
Undoubtedly the most famous of these works, controversial in eyes of some people and at the same time also the biggest one – is John Paul II Monument in front of the basilica in Licheń [fig. 1–2], commissioned in 1999 by Grzegorz Tuderek, the CEO of Budimex (the construction company building the sanctuary). On a solid, geometrical plinth with the frieze depicting as many as 56 figures in a celebratory procession and two inscription plaques is placed a 5.3 m figure of John Paul II, wearing his pontifical robes. His mitre and the chasuble pillar are decorated with Virgin Mary emblems and the crowned eagle. The pope stands straight, with his head slightly bowed, holding the pastoral staff in his left hand while his right hand is outstretched towards a priest wearing a cassock and surplice. The priest is Fr. Eugeniusz Makulski, sanctuary’s custodian and the initiator of building the basilica whose miniature model he hands to the Holy Father. This sculpture, one of more than two hundred monuments of John Paul II erected in Poland still in his lifetime [sic!], is admittedly not significantly better or worse than others, but is the only one alluding to the medieval way of depicting donors. But – according to Arkadiusz Woźniak – “it is a unique monument, standing out in the crowd of the portrayals of the great Pole created after 1980, while its rich form and complex narrative makes it appropriate for the context of the place visited by numerous pilgrims”.
It was the first monument of John Paul II I made by Marian Konieczny, but not the last one. Later he made a simple though big sculpture (nearly 2 m high) – a solid bust of Pope on a plain pedestal in Sękowa (2000) and two more monumental monuments of the Pope in Leżajsk (2000) and Bytów (2008), where the artist for the next time decided to use his favourite form of a walking figure [fig. 5–7]. The Pope, wearing a mitre and a chasuble, with his characteristic pastoral staff in his left hand, is blessing with his right hand the invisible crowds of pilgrims in whose direction he seems to be walking down from the low pedestal over a few steps. “These monuments, actually quite similar to one another, are more ‘human’; they do not overpower the viewer and they do not need to be seen from a great distance in the open-air settings. Instead, they emanate a particular feeling of familiarity and directness, for which the Pope was known”, as writes Arkadiusz Woźniak.
However, the huge oeuvre of Marian Konieczny does not consist only of monuments, including those undoubtedly religious, which brought him fame, renown and criticism in an equal measure; it also includes more personal sculptures, quite intimate, made mostly of patinated plaster. They can be seen only in the artist’s studio and his home in the Kraków district of Salwator where they can be hardly noticed in the multitude of other works pushed together. For some time a few of them, cast one piece after another by an artisan friend of the artist, have been placed in the backyard, where they attract the viewer’s attention with their delicate patina offset by the greenery of trees and shrubs. These works show us a completely different artist, not the one seemingly calculated, cold and definitely pompous, effectively hiding his emotions, but a man of flesh and blood, who has his great dreams and yearnings. While his monuments, which have been created over the period of more than fifty years, are unified stylistically, calm and harmonious, his smaller sculptures, particularly Daedalus and Icarus (1965–1989), Motherhood (1966–1968) and The Crucified – The Dance of Life (1977–1978), are quite expressive organic forms (clearly visible fragments of the human body) modelled towards non-figurative abstraction, with holes of various sized pierced through them. These sculptures seem to be living organisms, pulsating with internal energy surrounding them in the crystal-clear and empty space. Their surfaces are rough and quite irregular, refracting light which increases the effect of plasticity and movement.
In at least two versions of The Crucified from the cycle The Dance of Life Marian Konieczny allows himself for the first time in his life – or at least the present author thought so until recently – to be inspired by the Bible [fig. 8–9]. However, during a long conversation in April 2010 the artist rejected such an interpretation of these works. Both sculptures do not have mystical or reflexive character which their titles might indicate, but they express the overpowering desire of the artist to manifest his concern about the lot of the individual man, fighting for his survival. The motif of the widespread arms nailed to the cross, inevitably associated by many Catholics (and by the present author) with Christ’s passion, is apparently used only for expressive reasons, and not as the embodiment of Marian Konieczny’s faith or religious beliefs.
Could it be the end of the surprises coming from the author of Lenin Memorial in Nowa Huta and John Paul II Memorial in Licheń? I do not think so. Even though the artist has already turned 80, one should bear in mind that sculptors usually live very long and remain active until the end of their days. Probably we are going to see many a religious, or even a sacred work, signed by Marian Konieczny.
Translated by Monika Mazurek
Artyści o pomniku. Dlaczego robiłem pomniki? Dlaczego pomników nie robiłem?, in: “Rocznik Rzeźby Polskiej” 1989 – “Pomnik”, pp. 7–8.
 Ibidem, p. 8.
 Od Autorów, in: A. Osęka, W. Skrodzki, Współczesna rzeźba polska, [Warszawa 1977], p. 5.
 W. Skrodzki, Dzieła i poszukiwania, in: A. Osęka, W. Skrodzki, Współczesna rzeźba polska, [Warszawa 1977], pp. 29–30.
 L. Grabowski, Rzeźba polska po II wojnie światowej, Warszawa , p. 17.
 A. Woźniak, Marian Konieczny – twórcza rzetelność i konsekwencja, in: “Akcent”, 2009, no. 4 (118), p. 58.