Pawel Althamer

The surprising and visionary work of an artist who has redefined sculpture's relationship to life

Survey by Roman Kurzmeyer, Interview by Adam Szymczyk, Focus by Suzanne Cotter, writings by Pawel Althamer


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Pawel Althamer (b.1967) originally trained as a sculptor, but his work also bears the marks of relational art – social, collaborative, participatory art that is concerned less with producing objects than with composing human interactions. Often dematerialized to the point of invisibility, this work also increasingly enlists human participants, often in what the artist describes as 'reality directed'. For Motion Pictures (2000) Althamer choreographed actors to perform everyday actions in a public square (greeting a friend, feeding pigeons) at the same time every day for three weeks. Viewers, if they didn't know what to look for, could not know whether they had seen the artwork at all. Another major element of Althamer's work is institutional critique. For a 2003 exhibition at his Berlin gallery, Neugerrieumschneider, he transformed the high-design space into a litter-strewn shell, essentially returning the gallery to its dilapidated pre-gentrification state.

But perhaps the defining feature of Althamer's work is the artist’s own body and its experience of the world. This interest takes different forms: sometimes larger-than-life self-portraits (as in the giant nude Balloon he raised over Milan in 2007), sometimes documentation of his experiments in consciousness (as in two 2003 videos of the artist undergoing hypnosis in Warsaw and ingesting peyote in Mexico). His work with others could even be seen as a fragmented self-portrait, with the artist multiplied into a series of effigies around which new communities are forged. Since 2007 he has run a twice-monthly ceramics workshop for adults suffering from multiple sclerosis, with the results being exhibited at galleries such as London's ICA (2008) under the name Nowolipie Group & Pawel Althamer.

This focus on the communicative power of art rather than on the objects it creates is central to Althamer's work, placing him at the forefront of current developments in contemporary art. But it is his courageous commitment to this work that singles him out as a principal artist of our time. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at museums such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2006), the Vienna Secession (2009) and Modern Art Oxford (2009), and included in Documenta 10 (1997) and at numerous international biennials, including Berlin (2006), Istanbul (2005) and Venice (2003). In 2004 he won the prestigious Vincent van Gogh Award for Contemporary Art in Europe.

Pawel Althamer is represented by Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin.


Format: Paperback
Size: 290 x 250 mm (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in)
Pages: 160 pp
Illustrations: 150 illustrations
ISBN: 9780714860855

Roman Kurzmeyer is a curator and art historian based in Switzerland. His books include Harald Szeemann: With Through Because Towards Despite (2007), a major monograph on the influential Swiss curator.

Adam Szymczyk is the Director of Kunsthalle Basel. Formerly Curator at the Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, he was co-curator of the 5th Berlin Biennial (2008) and one of the ten curators of Phaidon’s Creamier (2010).

Suzanne Cotter is Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Curator, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project. From 2002 to 2010 she was Senior Curator at Modern Art Oxford, where her exhibitions included 'Mike Nelson: Triple Bluff Canyon' (2004), 'Out of Beirut' (2006) and 'Pawel Althamer: Common Task' (2009). In 2011 she co-curated the Sharjah Biennial.

On the Contemporary Artists Series

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"Gives the reader the impression of a personal encounter with the artists. Apart from the writing which is lucid and illuminating, it is undoubtedly the wealth of lavish illustrations which makes looking at these books a satisfying entertainment."—The Art Book

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