Alina Szapocznikow at the Wex

The nature of life is so fleeting, and yet the nature of what we leave behind is so solid; be it an artifact, a piece of art, or even just our corpse.  The flux between the permanence and impermanence of the human body is where Alina Szapocznikow’s art lives and breathes so fully.  You may not remember how to pronounce her last name, but I highly doubt you can forget her body of work.

In this traveling exhibition landing at the Wexner Center is one of the first large-scale survey’s of the artist’s work outside of her native Poland.  It spans just under 20 of her tragically short 47 years of life and contains nearly one hundred of her mixed-media sculptures, photographs, drawings, as well as archival video.  It is impossible not to stop and watch footage of this vibrant, beautiful woman that created such vulnerable and challenging work, much of which escapes an easy classification.

Her work is sexualized, playful, witty, and distinctly hers; it is surprising that she was virtually unknown outside of Poland.   Originally trained as a classical sculptor, in this exhibition we see her evolution. From her formal exploration of the human body in bronze to disambiguated breasts on a candy dish in polyester resin, we are the voyeurs of a restless artist desperate to leave an imprint.  In an almost artistic exhibitionism, we see Alina’s lips or other body parts in these sculptures she calls “awkward objects.”

It would be easy to label Alina’s work as feminist or politically leaning but it is decidedly not so.  Shuttling between Paris and Poland most of her adult life, she was always somewhat of an artistic outsider.  After surviving three concentration camps as a young nurse, she herself nearly died of tuberculosis.  At the end of her life Alina was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 44 and succumbed to it three years later.  It seems obvious that her artistic career centered almost entirely around explorations of the human body, as it was bookended by physical suffering.  Her focus on the human body, as she wrote shortly before her death is: “My gesture is addressed to the human body, that complete erogenous zone…I am convinced that all of the manifestations of the ephemeral, the human body is the most vulnerable, the only source of all joy, all suffering, and all truth.” 

Alina Szapocznikow, Sculpture Undone: 1955 – 1972 is on view at the Wexner Center from May 19th through August 5th.

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