The Sculptures of Paweł Althamer | A Social Approach To Art



Warsaw-based sculptor Paweł Althamer has been capturing the silhouettes of relatives in portraits for decades. His work summons up a social approach to art, where the process of making and enjoying art becomes an act of joyful cooperation.


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As opposed to glorifying one identity, PawełAlthamer  honours the communal efforts to seize the present: his sculptures, that abide to the organic silhouettes of the human body, also accept the temporary nature of their shapes, a moment that is drawn and captured collectively.

The sculptures of Paweł Althamer are ground for modern conversations around working-class art where he, Althamer, makes art accessible for everyone by fostering a space for self-exploration through collective experience. The first time that Althamer made an edition of portraits was in his father’s factory, in Warsaw, where the workers were invited to participate. “It was fun for them—some of them really wanted to touch the sculpture, to mould it, and some others were rather happy to give themselves,” offering their silhouettes. 


“The practice of art is for me a way to work with people to enjoy the fact that creating sculptures is a fantastic experience because its very human expression to play with your own identity, with your body, with your shape and with yourself as someone who can play.”


In doing so, Althamer has been blurring the boundaries between artist and spectator, taking impressions of everyday life: portrait sculptures, a very ancient form of art, that honour the life of those who are around, congregating them in a moment of participation. 


Althamer’s approach to art is a hybrid process that combines his father’s activity at a factory working with polythene and hot machines with references to his art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, binding personal aspects to practices of the art world.

Likewise, Althamer is known for overthrowing archaic structures of art making, where the artist is praised for their unique mastery. “I think the art world is in another level of reality, a kind of unique luxury game for only few fantastic creators among ordinary ones.” Opposite, he removes himself from fully assuming creative leadership by inviting people to participate in the process. “Like working class artists who are part of a huge game; I feel like I’m in a good position because I’m not the leader even if the art world wants me to be a leader.”

And with an approach to art that is less self-centred, Althamer finds hard to define his work or the purpose of it. Instead, he allows his work to be a playground free of fixed meanings, where fascinations of the moment lead their way into sculptures. “Fascinations read the moment when you are inspired by something.” In that sense, he uses this space to bound conversations between him and momentary fascinations—fascinations manifested as materials, moments in art history, and in relation to other people such as his relatives and other artists of the present time. “It’s a dialogue that can be between you and materials because materials are different combinations of forms, different identities of material form. That is a wide spectrum.”


“Another way of discovering this joyful artistic experience is to play with another artist who is thinking and feeling a bit different, so the game becomes a temporary creative conflict.”


Althamer has presented several collection of sculptures, principally made of cast, in different public sites and galleries—including an exhibition at the Guggenheim in Berlin. He is better known for art performances involving sensorial deprivation such as the time when he wrapped himself in a plastic bag and slowly filled it up with cold water (Water, Time, Space, 1991), mixing reality and art or, better said, evoking reality in art.


*Images courtesy of Galeria Foksal and Guggenheim Berlin


 +  Words:
Alejandra Espinosa
Luxiders Magazine