Pawel Althamer

b.1967 Warsaw, Poland

Lives and works in Warsaw, Poland

Paweł Althamer works in many mediums, mostly in natural and found objects, creating sculpture, performance, installation, and film. Althamer is known best for his explorations of the human body, more specifically, his own. From his self-portrait Paweł Althamer (1993), a nude sculpture of the artist, to Balloon (2007), in which a balloon  likeness of the artist floated above Milan, the artist himself has been the subject of many of his works. Althamer’s performance pieces and happenings, often documented through film, are collaborative works that allow the artist to operate through other people. For example, for an exhibition in Chicago, Althamer paid an old high school friend to paint the walls of a gallery a different color every day. In another work he hired homeless people to stand on the streets promoting a newspaper. All of Althamer’s works attempt to find new ways of experiencing reality.

Diverting from his main theme of self-portraiture, in Schedule of the Crucifix (2005) , Althamer explores one of the most widely portrayed subjects in art history, the crucifixion of Jesus. Considered a collaborative performance piece in which the artist operates through others, several different adult males are hired to play the part of “Jesus,” basing their actions on Althamer’s wishes. Beginning at a certain time each day, “Jesus” undresses behind a room divider, ties a cloth around his hips, places a crown of thorns upon his head, climbs a ladder, and takes his place upon a cross, remaining there for as long as he can maintain the pose. Taken from the Catholic tradition of reenacting the Stations of the Cross during the season of Lent, viewers are able to watch the progression of “Jesus” as he begins to physically tire and tremble from physical and emotional strain, providing viewers with a personal experience unattainable in painting or sculpture.

Sometimes in art, and life, an object is what it is, and that is the beauty of it. Taking found objects like ski boots, old clothes, and his own teacher’s identification card, Althamer has created a sculpture of a medieval warrior/gilded astronaut—an adventurer. Like many of his other sculptures, Nomo (2009) is a self-portrait. Given the experimental aspect of many of his projects and artworks—filming people he met at a homeless shelter dancing naked in a circle, coordinating families in his apartment complex to turn on or off their lights in order to make the year 2000 appear on the exterior—Althamer explores the unknown. These sculptures also allow him to recast himself as characters he cannot be. This image of an astronaut has occurred in other works by Althamer including Astronaut Suit (1991) and Astronaut 2 (1997), a performance piece he created for Documenta X.

Written by Shauna Skaltzky, Education Intern