“Formula and Factory: Jan Chwałczyk and Jerzy Ludwiński’s Highly Material Conceptualism.” In Conceptualism and Materiality: Matters of Art and Politics, edited by Christian Berger. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2019, 89-121.

Digital version available on the publisher’s website: https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004404649/BP000014.xml


Conference and Book Launch at the Courtauld Institute of Art

This essay examines the relationships between conceptual art and materiality in the People’s republic of Poland in the late 1960s, and more specifically: between aspirations for a dematerialized practice and the material reality of artistic production. It does so by looking at writing and curatorial practice of the influential theoretician Jerzy Ludwiński and art works of Jan Chwałczyk, whom Ludwiński exhibited at his “At Mona Lisa’s” gallery in Wrocław.

The author proposes a revisionist reading of Chwałczyk’s supposedly purely conceptual artworks based on two concepts originally suggested by Ludwiński. The first one is that of an artwork as a mathematical formula, which the author links to contemporaneous desires to break the division between art and science as well as the discussions surrounding authorship. The second, the concept of a factory as an ideal site of production, is discussed here in relation to materiality and labor.

The author argues that the desire for art’s dematerialization must be understood within the very specific historical circumstances of the People’s Republic of Poland, with its own artistic tradition of the pre-war avant-gardes on the one hand, and the socio-political and material realities of the Communist period on the other. This rejection of artworks’ materiality—discussed here in relation to Chwałczyk and Ludwiński, but symptomatic for greater artistic and discursive trends in Poland at the time—is explained in the context of the artists’ complicated relationships with subjectivity and agency, on the one hand, as well as the epistemological demands placed on art in myriad ways throughout the 1960s, on the other.


Conceptualism and Materiality. Matters of Art and Politics underscores the significance of materials and materiality within Conceptual art and conceptualism more broadly. It challenges the notion of conceptualism as an idea-centered, anti-materialist enterprise, and highlights the political implications thereof. The essays in the volume focus on the importance of material considerations for artists working during the 1960s and 1970s in different parts of the world. In reconsidering conceptualism’s neglected material aspects, the authors reveal the rich range of artistic inquiries into theoretical and political notions of matter and material. Their studies revise and diversify the account of this important chapter in the history of twentieth-century art — a reassessment that carries wider implications for the study of art and materiality in general.

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