The artist’s first major survey in China exhibits a representative selection of his social and sculptural practice.
Polish contemporary artist Paweł Althamer (b. 1967, Warsaw) incorporates social practice and relational aesthetics into his sculpture, installation, performance, and video work. For his first institutional exhibition in China, Althamer will chiefly present two of his iconic works which explore the relationship between individual identity, social relations, and the making of art: Draftsmen’s Congress and Venetians. In Draftsmen’s Congress, Althamer asks museum visitors to draw at will on the floor and walls of the exhibition space, creating an open-ended dialogue among participants in which communication takes place by interacting with and responding to each other’s drawn gestures. The result is a democratic visual conversation that evolves non-hierarchically and outside of the artist’s control.
Venetians grows out of Althamer’s interest in social, site-specific sculpture. For the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, the artist cast the faces and hands of 90 of the city’s dwindling local population. He then attached these molds to bodies made of thick, intertwined plastic ribbons, juxtaposing the realism of their hands and faces—humanistic symbols of occupation and identity—with their haunting, skeletal frames. Althamer employed his father’s plastics manufacturing company to produce these sculptures. As with the artist’s sculpture Bruno of his eldest son at ten, completed with the assistance of Bruno himself, Althamer draws upon social relations to endow his process with an additional layer of intimacy, invisible but for the narrative of the work’s production.
Growing up in Communist Poland, Paweł Althamer’s artworks are rooted in an awareness of the inextricable sociality of cultural production. As such, many of his pieces aim to expand the discursive limits of the museum and of art spaces by incorporating collective practice and marginalized communities. For Draftsmen’s Congress, the Center will invite various local organizations to hold drawing sessions in the gallery, bringing an element of targeted engagement into the work’s form and content. Althamer and UCCA will also invite amateur musicians to periodically perform in the Central Gallery alongside Draftsmen’s Congress in a playful juxtaposition of high and low culture.
Collaborative authorship plays a key role in many of Paweł Althamer’s pieces. His UCCA exhibition will also include a sculpture studio, in which Althamer’s assistants scour Beijing collecting discarded objects and detritus off the street. The artist will work with his assistants to assemble these items into one or more sculptural pieces inspired by the city, which he will then cast at a foundry and display in the UCCA Lobby. Other collaborative projects have seen Althamer invite dozens of friends and relatives to travel the world wearing gold space suits in a quasi-sci-fi performance-video (Common Task), work with local artists to build a shrine in Brooklyn to displaced women (Queen Mother of Reality, Performa 13), and hire a man to live in a trailer outside his exhibition as a stand-in for the artist (Astronaut 2, Documenta X). The artist’s longest-running collaboration is a ceramics workshop he teaches for Grupa Nowolipie, a class of students with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities. In both process and form, Althamer’s practice aims to transcend notions of the isolated creative practitioner while reorienting social relations within art.
Supported by — the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Beijing