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A part of the whole

Alina Szapocznikow .The artist at home in Malakoff Paris  1967

From the small dessert of the daily life one can get all the mystery of existence. I remember now the song The inner light composed by George Harrison in 1968 and published as the B side of The Beatles single Lady Madonna. Its lyrics were almost entirely taken from the 47th chapter of the Taoist Dao de Jing book: "Without stirring abroad one can know the whole world. Without looking out of the window one can see the way of heaven." Under the title Sculpture undone, 1955-1972 the New Yorker MoMA has organized a retrospective dedicated to the Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow taking the image of her work Small Dessert I as the cover for the exhibition catalogue. One could say that’s a very good image to describe her artistic career: small because it was short in time, and dessert because her work was so intense and creative.

Alina Szapocznikow was born in a Jew family in Kalisz, Poland, in 1926 so she grew up in a country occupied by the German army during the World War II, being imprisoned in ghettos, where her father died in 1938, and Nazi concentration camps. After the war, she started her training as a sculptor in the Otokar Velimski's studio and in 1947 at the Artistic Industrial College under the tutelage of Josef Wagner in Prague.  Her early works were developed in a classical figurative style in bronze and stone. She attended French sculptor Paul Niclausse's atelier at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris where she was influenced by the art of Henry Moore and Giacometti among others. By the years, Alina Szapocznikow turned her creativity into exploring surrealism and pop art using her own body and its aging as the main actor of her sculptures.

Due to her premature death in 1973, her career spans only seventeen years but its diversity of materials and formats is amazingly rich. Her sculptures include clothing, car parts, photographs and polyester casts of body parts which become everyday objects like lamps. The obvious reflection is our body seen as an object used for our own pleasure but also as a commercial product. But there’s a deeper lecture of Alina Szapocznikow’s work that expresses art as a part of the artist given to the viewer as a product: what you see as a lamp is a part of me up for sale. It’s a fierce criticism at the art market which is very up-to-date, probably more than ever.

The Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955–1972 exhibition at MoMA is a comprehensive overview of the work of an artist that transformed sculpture in something playful and deeply reflective at the same time which neither is easy nor frequent.

Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955–1972 exhibition here

Text by Juan Carlos Romero
Photo courtesy of Museum of Modern Arts of New York, MoMA
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