The Open Form Workshops were inextricably linked to the figure Oskar Hansen – architect, artist and art theorist, educator. They were an expression of his theory of the Open Form, which turned against an art with permanent, ossified forms, incapable of further development and unable to follow the rapidly changing life of man, seen as a monument to an artist. In return, it offers to see the beholder as the creator of the art that forms the framework for livings.

In 1952, Hansen took over the Studio of Spatial Forms and Planes at the Faculty of Interior Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, in 1955 moved to the Faculty of Sculpture and headed the Interfaculty Department of Integrated Art in 1981. Together with his wife Zofia, an important architect, he also ran summer schools at his house in Szumin. In all these places, he oriented himself to the principles of Open Didactics, which he had created from the ground up. The aim of Open Didactics was to sensitize students to the space-time that surrounds them, how it affects the human psyche, and how it is linked to artistic phenomena. The system was designed to teach students critical thinking, to help them develop their artistic personalities, and to prepare them for working with specialists from different fields, from architecture to industry.

The workshop was divided into two areas: a laboratory with instruments and devices built by Hansen to study spatial composition, rhythm, contrasts of form and size, and other questions of perception; as well as art games that took place outdoors. An important demand for Hansen was to break with the previous rigid system of closed master studios, which hindered the free exchange of ideas among the students. In return, he suggested that all students work in a large common studio and that the professors observe them from the height. When a student had a problem with an assignment, he called the right professor for help. Hansen tried to introduce this system for the entire faculty when he took over as Dean of the Faculty of Sculpture in 1980, but this was rejected by most of the staff, so the idea was not implemented.

The Open Form Workshops have shaped many important artists, including KwieKulik duo (Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek). Thanks to the teaching activities of Hansen’s closest assistants, Sven Hatløy and Grzegorz Kowalski, the elements of Open Didactics were continued in a slightly modified form at the Bergen School of Architecture (BAS) and the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. The heritage of this theory is the work of, for example, Katarzyna Kozyra, Paweł Altheimer and Artur Żmijewski.

Weronika Stasińska

(* 1997) is an art historian, associated with the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where she will complete her master’s degree in 2023. Her research interests focus on the materiality of modernist architecture, especially surfaces made of raw concrete or covered with fine plaster. In 2022, she was an intern at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.