Polish sculptor, performance artist, creator of installations, educator, essayist, and art critic. Born January 10, 1942 in Warsaw; resides in Warsaw.
Between 1959 and 1965 Kowalski studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw under Oskar Hansen and Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz. While a student he volunteered as a teaching assistant in the studio of Hansen, thus beginning an educational career at his alma mater that persists to this day. In 1985, following the retirement of professor Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, Kowalski took over as head of the Sculpture Department diploma studio and became a full professor in 1991.
His artistic stance was shaped under the influence of Oskar Hansen's theory of the "Open Form". Early in his career (1965-1970) he was active within the movement of avant-garde symposiums and plein-airs, which was significant in breadth at the time and characterized by both an experimental and social agenda. Among others Kowalski took part in the Symposium of Artists and Scientists in Puławy in 1966, the 2nd Biennale of Spatial Forms in Elblag in 1967, the international symposium of sculptors during the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, and the Wrocław '70 Symposium. He had his solo debut in 1968 with the installation Kieszeń (Pocket) at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw. Soon afterwards he suffered a crisis of confidence and lost his previously held belief in the power of art to influence social processes. This, coupled with his newly found awareness of the disproportion between his creative intentions and the possibilities for realizing them, prompted Kowalski to seek and obtain a scholarship to travel to the United States, where he stayed for one year (1970-1971).
Throughout his second period (1972-1980) Kowalski remained linked primarily with the Repassage Gallery, in which the artist found conditions appropriate for, as he put it, "practicing freedom" in the face of the censorship and political oppression that reigned on the outside. His works from this period were of two types. The first took the form of photographic tableaux that depicted interpersonal actions or designs for them and included Kompozycja horyzontalna (Horizontal Composition) from 1972, a series of 'photographic objects' (1972-1974), Buty (Shoes,1975), and Krzesło (Chair, 1974-1975). The second were artistic actions in pure form, one-off events like Odbitka (Print, 1977), Kompilacja (Compilation, 1977), Trawa (Grass, 1978), or long-term question-provoked actions like Czy mógłbyś i czy chciałbyś wcielić się w zwierzę przed obiektywem? (Could You and Would You Like To Become an Animal in Front of the Camera?, 1978), Czy mógłbyś i czy chciałbyś potraktować mnie jako przedmiot? (Could You and Would You Like To Treat Me Like An Object?, 1979), and Czy chciałbyś wrócić do łona matki? (Would You Like to Return to Your Mother's Womb?, 1981-1987). Both in the first and the second, the artist incorporated viewers into the work as partners.
Kowalski transferred this method of artistic endeavor to his educational activities. In its mature form, a series of classes titled Obszar wspólny i własny (A Common and Individual Zone) (beginning with the 1981/82 academic year), it constituted an important current within Kowalski's third period of creativity, which began in 1980. In the 1990s, drawing on his students educated in the spirit of 'education in partnership', Kowalski created an informal artistic group known as Pracownia Kowalskiego / Kowalski's Workshop (or Kowalnia / The Smithy), which included Paweł Althamer, Katarzyna Górna, Katarzyna Kozyra, Mariusz Maciejewski, Jacek Markiewicz, Monika Zielińska, and Artur Żmijewski.
Apart from being an artist and educator, Grzegorz Kowalski is also involved in some curatorial activities. In 1991 he assembled an original exhibition titled Magowie i mistycy (Magicians and Mystics) at the Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. This was followed in 1993 by an addition to the Repassage Gallery retrospective at the Zacheta Gallery devoted to the political activities of the 'people of the gallery', and in the year 2000 by an exhibition titled Wojna w człowieku (War Within Man) at the Center of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko.
Author: Maryla Sitkowska, Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, December 2001.
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