“Plastikowe Artony Włodzimierza Borowskiego” (Plastic “Artons” by Włodzimierz Borowski). Artium Quaestiones vol. XIX (2008), pp. 183-212.

Download full essay here. (In Polish with English summary.)


This article is the first comprehensive attempt at analyzing plastic Artons by Włodzimierz Borowski – one of the few examples of object art in the history of Polish art after World War II. Made of processed plastic kitchen utensils, Artons have been usually interpreted in terms of assigning to the object made of cheap and disposable material the status of art, while their form has been disregarded as irrelevant. Since Borowski has been also seen as an ironist using the strategy of the “total denouncement” of art, Artons were mostly believed to anticipate his later conceptual works. Rejecting such a reductive point of view, the author argues for these artworks’ rich interpretative potential. 

The standard interpretation of the plastic Artons from 1961-63 has been identical to two earlier works by Borowski: Artons A and B from 1958. They have been intended by the artist as a critique of the pictorial paradigm of Polish art of the Thaw period. Claiming that this is a far-reaching simplificaton, the author compares the two groups of Artons, stressing crucial differences.

The longest part of the text includes a contextual analysis of Arton IV, Arton XII with a butterfly, Arton XXIII, Arton XXVI, Arton with a doll from the Museum of Art in Wrocław, and Artons I and XI from the Art Museum in Łódź. Artons I, IV, XII, and XXIII made of colorful plastic resemble organic forms, visually similar to flowers, stalks, grass, and coral reef, or, else, to fragment of flesh, tissue, and bodily organs. The author argues that  this mimetic potential of the ready-made is one of two most important features of these works, the other one being their processual character. Both are possible thanks to the use of new material: plastic, about which Roland Barthes wrote, also in the 1950s, that it is an “alchemic substance” which allows for an infinite number of metamorphoses. Plastic turns into an “idea of its own endless transformation.” The author thus emphasizes that plastic was perceived in the early 1960s in Poland as an essentially new and exciting material. Consequently, Borowski’s decision to use it should be seen in the context of fascination with this new technology rather than, as it has been argued by some art historians, in that of the artistic elevation of ‘waste.” 

The following section brings an analysis of Arton XXVI and the Arton with a Doll, referred to in literature as “structural” in contrast to Borowski’s “organic” works. The form of the “structural” Artons is quite far from the tactile and colorful charm of the earlier ones, which might have been the reason why critics have generally believed in the “anti-aesthetic” quality of the Artons. The author, again, proposes a mimetic reading of this group, suggesting an association with the imagery of science-fiction (space stations, flying saucers) so popular in the 1960s. Both groups function in the same way, she argues, with the main theme changing from “organicism” to “technologism”. 

The last part of the paper contextualizes these conclusions in the light of the mainstream artistic discourse of the late 1950s. Additionally, the author reaches beyond the historical frame of reference, and proceeds to discuss Artons in relation to informel (understood, after Yves-Alain Bois, not as the art of formlessness, but as that of “in-forming”), assemblage, and the Neo-Dada, and specifically: to compare them to the series of Meta-matics by the French artist Jean Tinguely. 

Toward the end of the essay, the category of time is introduced as a common denominator between the earlier Artons A and B, and the plastic ones: the early ones, through the use of electric lights, create a sense of spectacle, while the later evoke time through their plastic’s slow decomposition. The text concludes with the analysis of Arton’s functioning in Borowski’s  Pokazy Synkretyczne (syncretic shows), a series of happenings/performances the artist created later in the 1960s. The author argues that the way Artons were used by Borowski in those shows confirms that the artist wanted to uphold the tension between the works’ physical appeal and intrinsic irony as their essential characteristic. 

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