Willimantic, Conn. – On Nov. 6, the Akus Gallery at Eastern Connecticut State University held a discussion and reception for its current exhibition, “Rosemarie Koczÿ (1939-2007): Process and Realization” — which is on display and open to the public until Dec. 11. The discussion was led by curator Marion Callis, former director of the Akus Gallery, and received input from the late artist’s husband, Louis Pelosi.
The task of curating Rosemarie Koczÿ’s vast artworks came upon Callis unexpectedly. A long-time art aficionado and curator, Callis did not know who Koczÿ was, but when she viewed Koczÿ’s work for the first time, “Callis burst into tears,” said Pelosi. Since then, Callis and Pelosi have been on a mission to bring Koczÿ’s work back to the public.
A childhood witness to the Holocaust, Koczÿ survived the atrocities of her upbringing and went on to become an internationally known artist before passing away in 2007 at the age of 68. Her current installation at the Akus Gallery features works rarely seen together or in the United States, and includes paintings, tapestries and sculptures, as well as personal journals, photos and art tools from her estate.
“With this installation I wanted to give an idea of her process and journey as an artist,” said Callis. Pelosi added, “This installation is a revelation; it encompasses the different chapters of Rosemarie’s career and really brings out her work. Callis is a miracle curator.”
When she was three years old, Koczÿ, the daughter of two Jews, was separated from her family and sent to a concentration camp where she experienced slave labor and witnessed death every day. She would never see her family again. Upon liberation from the camp, she was sent to an orphanage, where she underwent more oppression.
Koczÿ found salvation through art, and even though she was deprived of education her whole childhood, she eventually found her way to École des Arts Décoratifs in Geneva, Switzerland, and graduated cum laude. “It’s amazing someone with her past would be able to get into one of the best art schools and become so prolific,” said Callis.
Koczÿ launched her career as a fiber artist, specializing in complex and often free-standing hybrid tapestry-sculptures, until her discovery by influential mentors, such as the Venice, Italy-based art impresario Peggy Guggenheim, who helped get her international attention.
As an adult, however, Koczÿ would see figures — the victims from her years in the concentration camp — in day-to-day life. To cope with and honor these victims, she incorporated their figures into her artwork — hence the label “figural expressionism” attached to her work. With its haunting, contorted figures, much of her art gives off a sense of despair. However, Pelosi said, “Despite her past, I’ve never known anyone with such joy for life and admiration for people.”
Koczÿ produced artwork relentlessly, carrying on the laborious work ethic that was instilled in her as a child. Altogether, she produced more than 15,000 pieces. Some of her tapestries weigh more than 1,000 lbs. “She is as productive and successful in her aims as any artist I’ve seen,” concluded Callis.