Magdalena Więcek


In 1807 the British chemist Sir Humphry Bartholomew Davy isolated a light silvery-white metal from clay. This unusual substance was then called argent d’argile by the French and Lehmsilber by the Germans. Nowadays, there are two names in Polish: glin is the name of a chemical element used in science, and aluminium describes a metallic material used in industry. Aluminium is the most common metal in the earth’s crust, but the ease with which it binds with oxygen meant that the properties of the pure element were not known to mankind until modern times. In the 1970s, when Magdalena Więcek’s metal sculptures were created, aluminium, at least in the countries which were behind the Iron Curtain, was still an exclusive symbol of modernity, and the use of this material in art was an avant-garde gesture.

The figure of a strong, independent woman artist was also thoroughly modern at the time. In Poland, as early as in the 1950s, a whole constellation of women sculptors remembered anew today began to come to the fore, to which Więcek also belonged.

Their abstract form carries the timeless spirit of architecture. The intersecting arches are reminiscent of both the vaults of Gothic cathedrals and that of parabolic contemporary architecture. Like hanging roofs, the sculptural elements seem to be resisting the force of gravity.

The importance that the motifs of flight and transcendence had in Więcek’s work in the 1960s and 1970s is confirmed by the titles the artist gave to her sculptures from this period: Close to the Earth, Flight, Detachment, Flight, Horizons, Infinity, Sacrum. In this context an untitled work from 1967 – a strip of thick aluminum sheet bent into a dynamic knot – can be interpreted as a sculptural equivalent of aerobatics. The pilot making the loop experiences overloads, and the world stands on its head for a moment.