Talented Althamer Arrives to New York with Impressive Show

The Polish artist Pawel Althamer’s celebrated work at last year’s Venice Biennale made its US debut at the New Museum this past week. Althamer’s cast of Venetian citizens; bankers, shopkeepers, immigrant workers, whom he met on the city’s streets, were turned into haunting zombie-like figures and 90 of them all!

“It was as if the figures of the dead carved on tombs in Venetian churches had come to life, finally to disintegrate or be made whole. Walking among the sculptures at the Biennale was like joining an army of Lazaruses united by citizenship and mortality” wrote the New York Times critic Holland Cotter.

Now it is a chance for New Yorkers to experience this powerful work in Althamer's career survey, first US museum show. Like "Venetians," Althamer’s projects are always community oriented, perhaps not surprising for an artist who was born in Warsaw 1967 and grew up under Communism. When Althamer was in the UK for his first solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2009, he and his family arrived dressed in golden spacesuits as part of his work of social sculpture “Common Task” 2009. Taking the form of a science-fiction film in real time, the project participants are volunteers from Althamer’s neighbors in Bródno who are all dressed in golden spacesuits and coats that brand them as outsiders, foreigners but by doing so, turning this foreignness into a gentle joke. Together this group takes on global journeys – Poland, Belgium, Brazil, and Africa - which at times have a specific political focus. For example in 2010, they participated in a neo-Nazi rally in Warsaw dressed provocatively in striped uniforms similar to those worn by concentration camp prisoners.

 Pawel Althamer, "Draftsmen's Congress" at New Museum

Pawel Althamer, "Draftsmen's Congress" at New Museum

A big attraction in Althamer’s New York exhibition is the participatory workshop “Draftsmen’s Congress” that made its debut in 2012 in Berlin, proving to be a big hit. Here visitors are invited to draw, paint, take action in a spacious gallery where the walls and floor are left as white blank-canvas, with boxes of paint and chalk around. For Althamer, the results of such works are not what his projects are about. He emphasizes ephemerality, and the process of working and making something together, whatever it may be, and how everything eventually goes away but is also replaced.

The exhibition also includes a coat drive to benefit the homeless and hungry at the nearby Bowery Mission, and donors get free museum admission!