Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone at the Hammer Museum worked as one of those refreshing moments where as the viewer you are transformed into a world not your own and taken for an interesting ride. The way the show is composed can not only assist the work on display but, in some cases serve as the driving force for the overall principle of what Alina Szapocznikow’s artistic endeavors were about. We were first greeted by curator Allegra Pesenti who guided us along the artistic journey of Alina Szapocznikow’s remarkable, however unfortunate short artistic career. The exhibition included approximately 60 sculptures where some were casted in polyester resin during the 1960’s as well as multiple works on paper.
The exhibition takes you from Szapocznikow’s early sculptures and from there, guides the viewer in a chronological manner throughout the artist’s career. There were numerous stops along the journey of Szapocznikow’s work, which, individually, stand as impressive works. However, there is a particular narrative to which I personally felt could only come into fruition by the dialogue that is created by the entire collection on display. That is one, to my understanding of artistic fragmented misery, that runs parallel with the biography of the artist’s thorny life. Szapocznikow was born in 1926 in Poland to a Jewish family where she would spend her formative years being transferred among enforced ghettos during the German occupation, and later then, among three Nazi concentration camps. After being liberated in 1945 she later settled in Prague, and then afterward to her native Poland. She would later travel back and forth between Poland and France, spending her last decade in France before losing her battle with 2nd degree bone cancer after battling primary breast cancer, which mutilated her female body at the age of 46.
Upon learning this information from Curator Allegra Pesenti, I was insistently unsettled by the level of flesh and fragmentation that could be found in the fetish-like polyester resin (which very likely played a hand in her eventual death). The sculptures that are produced in a very rough and unsophisticated manner certainly add to the feelings of human butchery that one may be aware of when coming across sculptures of fragmented breasts and mouths. To quote the artist, Szapocznikow claimed that her sculptures were “awkward clumsy objects made by hand”, which to me is a statement about the artist’s modesty. However, it is plain for all to see how the artists’ work acknowledges not only fundamental skills but also, progresses upon classical sculptural forms of the body and takes a more modernistic approach. There were pieces of work within the collection that took the familiar body parts that could be found in the exhibition and discombobulated them even further and created a sort of soft fleshy lamp as well as implemented glowing lights into some of the pieces. All of which create a mild sense of humor, coupled with undeniable weirdness/ grotesqueness that can be found throughout the exhibition. It was here where I found my own personal favorite pieces that the artists created.
Towards the end of the exhibition you become more and more acutely aware of the impact that the disease was having upon her body. The work started to become more reflective upon a life full of hardships that had slowly chipped away which began to make things crumble as a result. It is even more disheartening learning about the lack of notoriety of the artist work in the US and how this retrospective served as a way for rediscovering a talent that challenges the idea of categorizing a said artist into a distinct historical group.