Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paweł Althamer in New Museum

After walking through a narrow aisle, I saw this group of Pawel Althamer’s sculptures: under dim lights, hundreds of figures’ shadows stand there with warm body language. For a second, I stopped to see what was going on-- none of them moved; the whole atmosphere was peaceful. Then, I realize these are works of art, not live human beings.

The size of these sculptures is human’s size which make me feel accessible. Gestures and facial expressions of each sculptures are differ, but them all are alone and closing eyes. Except the faces, other body parts are simply constructed by steels in a beautiful way, which looks fragmentary. But this imperfection highlights the vivid facial expressions: sadness, joyful, suffering, which sparks audiences to image.  

The documentary videos in four corners show the daily life of Althamer: sometimes, he acts like an irritable syndrome person; but sometimes he walked in a forest like a peaceful rabbit. A tear drop from his closed eyes, I am touched.

On the whole, the curating really helps to deliver the sentiment. If these sculptures are presented individually somewhere, they may look like average figurative sculptures. However, when all works come together in this space with the light setting and videos, they are quite impressive. However, the 2 video screens in main gallery maybe too sparkling for this silent emotional atmosphere. Without them, I will enjoy more.  


  1. I'm not sure how one can stand in the midst of these uncanny spectral figures and feel at ease. They're ghastly gray 'skin' hangs off their skeletons in polymer ribbons. Faces, like death masks, stare blindly and lifelessly into nothing.

    Perhaps the videos of what you call his "daily life" would have been less disturbing had they not in actuality been videos of the artist under the influence of hard drugs and hypnosis. I found these to be the most interesting part of the the show. However, I thought the appeal of these videos was similar to the appeal of watching youtube videos of teenagers falling off bicycles. It answered a human desire for spectacle.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Whitney. But I have to say that I can not agree with what you said " It answered a human desire for spectacle. " which is too general and like put a huge popular tag on. Instinctively, I find the videos appeal is because that I was touched by the weakness of the artist, which every human has, no matter how successful or famous a person looks like exteriorly (even he could have a show in one of the best museum in New York). This is about honest inner spirit.

      In terms of making a comment to an art review, I think there are two different layers:

      1. One layer is having opposite perspective against the review, as what you said in the 1st sentence: you could not understand why I felt in that way. This layer actually is a different voice, which is fine, but maybe not a criticism. Just as you can dislike a show for some reason, others can also like this show for some reason.

      2. Another layer is that reader feels the statement in the review is not able to persuade people to believe the conclusion emotionally, or conceptually, or instinctively, etc. This layer is more like a specific criticism to a criticism .

      So maybe you could criticize the way how I describe the work and my feeling cannot support my judgement of this show, but I am not sure how can one just simply negate another people's instinctive feeling by saying "how can you feel in that way~". In fact, what you said "they're ghastly gray 'skin' hangs off their skeletons in polymer ribbons." are all about imperfection, which are more touching than perfect here. In addition, even they are all in "gay" and closed eyes, but if people take a close look at each face carefully, they will find their facial expressions differ and are very vivid, which is the opposite against "lifelessly". Actually, the gray color and closed eyes here helps to stop the vivid expressions to be too overwhelming or superficial, which adds deeper emotional layer here :-)

    3. Hi pan,

      I didn't mean any offense. I was simply feeling astonished that your take could be so different from mine!

      I thought my description could add a contrasting point of view.

      As for criticism of how you described the show I think that it's really important to look at the videos as documents of altered states. An honest experience and vulnerability on the part of the artist is one thing. However, it has a different meaning if the artist is on drugs. (which he is in these videos)

    4. yes, for the drug part, I should be more clear. Thanks~