Alina Szapocznikow’s visceral sculptures at Hauser & Wirth

Hauser & Wirth’s first London solo exhibition devoted to Szapocznikow spotlights the body-part artworks that the late Polish artist and Holocaust survivor modelled on herself

Noga (Leg), 1962
Noga (Leg), 1962 | Image: Thomas Barratt

Once you see one of the strange, bodily and eerily beautiful sculptures by the late Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow, you never forget it. Shown in the past alongside artists like Paul Thek, Robert Gober and Tetsumi Kudo, Szapocznikow’s uncanny artworks (from $250,000) are being given a deserved focus at Hauser & Wirth in London from February 7 to May 2.

Sans Titre (Untitled), 1964-1965
Sans Titre (Untitled), 1964-1965 | Image: Thomas Barratt
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Born in 1926, the Jewish artist was interned at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt during the Holocaust. She classically trained with Josef Wagner in Prague and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris after the war, before returning to Poland in 1951. She is known for her radical approach to using her own body and female physicality in a wider sense. Szapocznikow’s work also touched on the classic concepts of “balance, volume, space, shadow and light”, as she once noted.

Człowiek z Instrumentem (Man with Instrument), 1965
Człowiek z Instrumentem (Man with Instrument), 1965 | Image: Thomas Barratt
Fotorzeźby (Photosculptures), 1971/2007
Fotorzeźby (Photosculptures), 1971/2007 | Image: Fabrice Gousset

The Hauser & Wirth show is dedicated to her most active period, between 1962 and 1972. During this time, she began casting using her own body, as can be seen in the piece Noga (Leg) on show, from 1962. Her fragmented body parts feel free and on the point of decomposition – desirable and sick. The exhibition also focuses on some of her illuminated lamp sculptures with their glowing red lips or fleshy skin. The results sit between beauty and something unnerving, with powerful results. Here, the human body is a repository for all emotion and experience.

Autoportrait (Self-Portrait), 1971
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait), 1971 | Image: Thomas Barratt
Lampe-Bouche (Illuminated Lips), 1966
Lampe-Bouche (Illuminated Lips), 1966 | Image: Thomas Barratt

Hauser & Wirth is also publishing a new book on the artist’s work, To Exalt the Ephemeral: Alina Szapocznikow, 1962-1972, featuring essays by curators Margot Norton and Pavel Pyś. With the female artist rightfully being repositioned as central to the canon of the past century, this show is bound to have serious appeal.

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