Alina Szapocznikow, Petit Dessert I (Small Dessert I), 1970-71. Colored polyester resin and glass. 3 (8 x 11 x 13 cm). Kravis Collection. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Thomas Mueller, courtesy BROADWAY 1602, New York, and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Cologne.

Alina Szapocznikow, Souvenirs, 1967. Polyester resin and photographs of Christian Boltansky and Twiggy. Left: 11.5 x 3.5 x 7 cm; right: 30 x 22 x 9 cm. The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy BROADWAY 1602, New York.

Reconsidering the Visionary Sculptural Practice of Alina Szapocknikow

Alina Szapocznikow with her work Naga (Naked), 1961. The Alina Szapocznikow Archive/Piotr Stanislawski/National Museum in Kraków. Photo by Marek Holzman, courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.

Alina Szapocznikow, Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips), 1966. Colored polyester resin, metal, electrical wiring. Ranging from 28.5 cm to 45.5 cm high. The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris.

Alina Szapocznikow, Fotorzezby (Photosculptures), 1971/2007. Twenty gelatin silver prints. Original dimensions: 18 x 24 cm and 24 x 18 cm. Collection UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Helga K. and Walter Oppenheimer Acquisition Fund. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris.

Alina Szapocznikow, Autoportret I (Self-Portrait I), 1966. Marble and polyester resin. 41 x 30 x 20 cm). The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo © Fabrice Gousset, Paris, courtesy Piotr Stanislawski and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Cologne.

Alina Szapocznikow, Portret wielokrotny (dwukrotny) (Multiple Portrait [Double]), 1967. Colored polyester resin and granite. 73.7 x 48.3 x 43.2 cm. Collection Sandra and Gerald Fineberg. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Thomas Mueller, courtesy BROADWAY 1602, New York.

Alina Szapocznikow, Untitled (Study for Kwiato-ptak [Flower-Bird] 2), ca. 1959-60. Ink on paper.29.8 x 21 cm. Collection Gail and Tony Ganz, Los Angeles. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

 

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
310-443-7000
Los Angeles
Alina Szapocknikow:
Sculpture Undone, 1955-1072

February 5-April 29, 2012

This is the first major museum survey of the artist’s work in the United States. While regarded in her native Poland as one of the country’s foremost sculptors of the postwar era, Alina Szapocznikow (1926-1973) has only recently begun to receive significant international recognition.

Sculpture Undone reveals the extraordinary talent and story of Alina Szapocznikow, a woman who sought to establish herself as an independent artist in Warsaw and Paris through precarious health conditions and during a period of great political unease.It is very satisfying to know that herremarkable body of work will not be lost to history and now takes its place alongside artists like Eva Hesse, Paul Thek, and Louise Bourgeois,” remarks Hammer director Ann Philbin.

The exhibition is organized by WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels (September 10, 2011-January 8, 2012) and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in collaboration with the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and The Museum of Modern Art in New York (October 7, 2012-January 28, 2013). It will also travel to the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (May 18-August 8, 2012).

The Exhibition presents the range and scope of Alina Szapocznikow’s work in the period from 1955 to just before her untimely death in 1973, at age 47. The loosely chronological installation includes approximately 60 sculptures and 50 works on paper from the last two decades of the artist’s career. It sheds light on the experimental quality of Szapocznikow’s artistic practice as she transitioned from traditional sculptural media such as bronze and clay to different materials and methods that involved using her own body as the principal matrix of her art.

She found new freedom in the use of polyester resin and polyurethane foam. She learned how to master these more malleable and expandable materials, creating a metamorphosis of body and form. Rare recordings and interviews with Szapocznikowwill also be displayed, along with a selection of photographs and documents on loan from the Alina Szapocznikow Archive (courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw).

Szapocznikow’s work can be associated with Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, and Paul Thek — artists working during the same period and whose exploration of new sculptural methods and materials have helped to reimagine the traditional concept of sculpture in the 20th century.

The art of Alina Szapocznikow The ephemeral condition of the human body and the fragility of life are at the core of Szapocznikow’s art — Her investigations of the human figure become more visceral and more poignantly tactile as she began to make casts directly from her own body. Her work jostles between permanence and impermanence, from carvings in Carrara marble, to the precarious assemblages of lips or breasts cast in translucent polyester resin.

She experimented as much on paper as she did with sculpturalmaterials, as evidenced, for example, by series of semi-abstract, allusive monotypes. An avid draftsman, her drawings and prints relay the same open, expandable forms as her three-dimensional work. In some, heavily diluted watercolor imparts a dreamy eroticism t0 Szapocznikow’s emaciated figures.

“As she immersed herself in casting isolated parts of her body, a simultaneous decomposition of the figure occursin her drawings whereby she undoes the figure and reconfigures its parts into singular organisms of her own imagination,” says Allegra Pesenti, Curator of the Grunwald Center at the Hammer Museum, who coordinated the exhibition at the Hammer.

Szapocznikow was diagnosed with cancer in 1969 and in the final years of her life she tackled the reality of her illness with characteristic vibrancy, but not without an edge of morbid humor. One series of works entitled Tumors (1969) consists of larvae-like forms containing hotographic portraits of the artist, scattered on the ground across a gravel surface. In some of her last compositions, Szapocznikow manipulated substances that pass through the human body and are formally altered by it, such as gum, butter, and cigarettes, thus extending the boundaries of her corporeal creations.

In a statement on her practice written in 1972, Szapocznikow claimed, “My gesture is addressed to the human body, ‘that complete erogenous zone.’… I am convinced that of all the manifestations of the ephemeral, the human body is the most vulnerable, the only source of all joy, all suffering, and all truth.”

She left behind a legacy of the provocative — at once sexualized, vulnerable, humorous, and political — that sit between Surrealism, Nouveau Réalisme, and Pop Art. Her tinted casts of lips and breasts transformed into quotidian objects like lamps or ashtrays, her poured polyurethane forms, and her construction of sculptures that incorporate photographic portraits remain as remarkably idiosyncratic and contemporary today as they were when they were first made. As she states in her artistic credo of 1972, “... I produce awkward objects. This absurd and convulsive mania proves the existence of an unknown, secret gland, necessary for life.”

Alina Szapocznikow was born in 1926 to a Jewish family in the small town of Kalisz in Poland. Before she was out of her teens she had lived in the ghettos of Pabianice and Lodz, and she and her mother, a pediatrician, survived internment in concentration camps, first briefly in Auschwitz and then for a longer period in Bergen-Belsen. Upon release from her ncarceration in 1945, she did not return to Poland but forged her identity as a Czech citizen in order to study in Prague.

In 1949, following her move to Paris, she was diagnosed with a potentially fatal case of tuberculosis. In 1951, with her husband Ryszard Stanislawski, she relocated to Warsaw, where she won a succession of competitions and received acclaim from the local artistic community. Poland, ravaged by German bombings, was now under Stalinist Communism and marred by social unrest and economic depression. In 1963, she moved back to Paris with her son, Piotr Stanislawski, and second husband, the renowned graphic designer Roman Cieslewicz. Here she was championed by art critic and curator Pierre Restany, and her friends included artists Christian Boltansky and Annette Messager.

Following her 1969 diagnosis ofbreast cancer, Szapocznikow entered a period of intense productivity that lasted until her death in 1973. Although Szapocznikow’s work was acclaimed inPoland during her lifetime, it failed to find the international recognition she strove for.

Her only solo exhibition outside of Poland was in Paris soon after she died, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1973 (Alina Szapocznikow, 1926-1973, Tumeurs-Herbiers), and only recently has her work begun to be included in museum exhibitionsin Europe and the United States. Exhibitions that have featured her work in the past decade include Paris, Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2002); Flesh at War with Enigma, Kunsthalle, Basel (2004); Documenta XII, Kassel (2007); elles@centrepompidou. Women Artists in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2009); Awkward Objects, The Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2009); and Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968, The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, (2010).

Catalogue A fully-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition including essays by the exhibition’s curatorial team: Cornelia Butler (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Elena Filipovic (WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels), Joanna Mytkowska (The Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw), and Allegra Pesenti (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles), as well as a timeline by Jola Gola. The exhibition is accompanied by several free public programs at the Hammer, including film screenings, lectures, and a student event.

Alina Szapocznikow, Untitled, 1963. Felt-tip pen and ink on paper. 30.6 x 22.8 cm. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchase. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

Alina Szapocznikow, Piotr, 1972. Polyester resin. 80 3/4 x 17 11⁄16 x 13 in. (205 x 45 x 33 cm). From the collection of the National Museum in Kraków. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photographic Studio of the National Museum in Kraków.

Alina Szapocznikow, Femme illuminée (Illuminated Woman), 1966-67. Plaster, colored polyester resin, electrical wiring, 155 x 57 x 40 cm. Collection Alexandre Stanislawski. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Photo © Fabrice Gousset, Paris, courtesy Piotr Stanislawski and Galerie Gisela Capitain GmbH, Cologne.

Alina Szapocznikow, Tumeurs personnifiées (Tumors personified), 1971. Polyester resin, fiberglass, paper, gauze Ranging from 33 x 56 x 34 cm to 15 x 23 x 16 cm. Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. © The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, and Agencja Medium Sp. Z o.o.