Friday, 14 December 2012

Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone at MOMA

In summer 2010 we visited the art museum in Wroclaw, Poland and I wrote here about the amazing works of art, dating between WWII and the present, that we saw there. Among the works I reproduced was one by Alina Szapocznikow (1928-1973). A year or so ago I learned that an exhibition of her work in the United States was planned and I was really pleased to be able to see the exhibition at MOMA: Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone (Here's a nice review). (I couldn't photograph in the show, so I'm providing links to images, but you can get a lot by just Google Imaging her name.)

At the Wroclaw museum I had felt uncomfortable and a little frightened by her work, with its frank intimacy and gritty emphasis on body parts, as well as by the materials she used, either the naturalistic color of the polyester resin or black or brown polystyrene. Learning from the labels that she died of cancer and had been in concentration camps during World War II, I started to see the deeply personal, but also universal feelings embedded in the works.

At MOMA I learned that she had been married to the photographer and graphic designer Roman Cieslewicz  (whose work I had just seen in the Quay Brothers exhibition nearby). One of the first objects in the show is a series of photographs by Cieslewicz of 25 chewing-gum sculptures she had made in 1971, proclaiming her excitement about the variety of media from which one could make sculpture. This, with a photograph of her with an impish grin on her faceholding colored cast breasts against her body, also suggested that she had a sense of humor and joy in her work.

The brown and black sculptures of bellies had bothered me in Wroclaw, but at MOMA I learned that some were prototypes for polyurethane foam pillows that were never mass produced, but seem like great fun and I wished they were for sale. I also wanted the lamps she made of cast-and-colored polyester resin lips and breasts, with bright pink lips and nipples that glow when they are lit. They also were sadly never manufactured. The lips she used for models were hers and Julie Christie's. She liked these modern mediums, which were light, inexpensive, easy to color, could be transparent, and were easy to replicate.

A pair of sculptures she made in the 1950s respond to her War experience. One, Hand, Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1957, is a monumental hand on a stand. The other, Exhumed, 1955, is a tribute to Laszlo Rajk, a Hungarian Communist activist who was executed in 1949 show trials and exonerated in 1956, a year after she made the sculpted portrait. Unlike the later body forms, these are more serious partially abstract, powerfully modeled objects that suggest perhaps the influence of Henry Moore.

On some of her sculptures she added transfer prints of the faces of family members or friends. One pedestal contains bowls with color casts of lips and breasts that are each titled Dessert. Her 1968 Bride's Wreath is a nest of lips in the grass, pink and flesh colored lips on stems that seem to grow out of a circle of grass. As her cancer developed, she made sculptures of tumors; one, Tumors Personified, of 1971 consists of sculptured lumps, each with a face on it, scattered at random on a gravel floor.

I wonder why I didn't know about this artist in the 1970s, probably because one didn't know much about Poland. She's a cheerful Louise Bourgeois, predates Kiki Smith, has been compared to Eva Hesse and Frida Kahlo, and seems to anticipate many other artists who incorporate difficult personal histories and their bodies in their work. Simply put, what I found provocative was her ability to make objects that may be seen as personal to her but also speak to me about living and dying as a human being. And I think she had a fine sense of humor. One final object is Rolls Royce II, 1971, a sculpted automobile in pink Portuguese marble with a hood ornament. She wanted one made twice life size, a perfect work of art, with no function, and "for some snob to put on his private lawn."

No comments:

Post a Comment