Conservation Debate

Perhaps we should let artworks die?

On 3rd December 2012, a conservation debate: Conservation of Alina Szapocznikow’s sculpture: ethics, idea, technology took place in Królikarnia.


Conservators of public collections have to face problems in their daily work that go far beyond technological questions. How should they combine the maintenance of historical objects as common good with respect for the intention of an artist who deliberately chose impermanent material for their work? What is the responsibility of a conservator towards the society and towards the idea?

The discussion revolved around Alina Szapocznikow’s sculpture Pnąca [Rambler], executed in 1960 as a concrete cast on metal frame. Fifty years later the sculpture was in poor condition  as the rusting iron structure inside was blasting the concrete from the inside. How was a conservation programme for Pmąca to be set up? Was Szapocznikow aware of the impermanent nature of the technique she employed? Or did she, perhaps, believe that the mixture of iron and concrete would be durable and unchanging? What was the method to be adopted now? Is the passing of time to be taken into account when “reading” the artist’s works? How should her work be interpreted in regard to the materials she used? The topic of the debate was significant within the context of the reflection upon responsibility for the legacy of the last century: iron and concrete was also used for the making of posts in Auschwitz-Birkenau or skyscrapers in Detroit.


Participants in the debate: Prof. Agata Jakubowska, Prof. Iwona Szmelter, Jola Gola, PhD, Janusz Smaza, PhD and Dorota Ignatowicz attempted to provide answers for the above questions.

The debate was conducted by Agnieszka Tarasiuk, a curator at the Museum of Sculpture in Królikarnia.


In 2013, Kalina Marzec defended, with distinction, her dissertation at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, entitled An Attempt at Stopping the Corrosion of Steel Elements and the Erosion of Mineral Mortar Instanced by the Case of A. Szapocznikow’s Sculpture “Pnąca”, since then the work is on permanent display in the hall of Królikarnia.


The transcription of the discussion will soon be published by the Museum of Sculpture in Królikarnia as part of a book recapitulating the SKONTRUM project.