Paris

Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscape(s) at Galerie Loevenbruck

Owing to the success of her figurative work as well as her 2012 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow is widely recognized for her uncanny mixed-media sculptures that incorporate cast body parts with everyday objects. Often overlooked, however, are her drawings of abstracted figures—erotic, restless, and vulnerable—though they are a central part of her practice. Human Landscape(s) at Loevenbruck in Paris presents a small but welcome corrective.

Alina Szapocznikow. Untitled, 1970-1971; Ink on laid paper; 24 13/16 x 18 7/8 in. Courtesy The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow / Piotr Stanislawski / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Alina Szapocznikow. Untitled, 1970-1971; ink on laid paper; 24 13/16 x 18 7/8 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Fifteen drawings in ink, felt-tip pen, and watercolor on paper are arranged in five groups of three, with each group emphasizing a subtly different aspect of her style. Viewers first encounter a set of drawings in fine black ink. Body parts such as a finger or a breast are discernible, but on the whole, the aggregated contours of each drawing are predominantly suggestive rather than pictorial. Szapocznikow’s early life was shaped by the trauma of her imprisonment in two Jewish ghettoes and three Nazi concentration camps. Yet nearly thirty years after the war, her depictions are delicate, almost tender; the line work is more like a lover’s light touch than a mark of agitation, and the verticality of these images creates an upward, lifting movement.

In contrast, the figures in the second set of drawings are oriented horizontally, and definable imagery is less elusive. The pen lines of Paysage Humain [Human Landscape] (1971) stretch across the page, giving the impression of being pulled from both left and right. In the central foreground, in front of rolling hills, a shapely mound suggests a pregnant woman; curved lines and shading indicate the roundness of her swollen belly. But where a face might be, there is only a skull. Szapocznikow’s marks are energetic, established in melancholic black and dark purple. Birth and death are proximal to one another, and imminent.

Alina Szapocznikow. Paysage humain (du cycle «Paysages humains») [Human Landscape] (from the Cycle «Human Landscape»), 1971; Felt-tip pen and watercolor on cardboard; 11 13/16 x 19 3/16 in. Courtesy The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow / Piotr Stanislawski / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Alina Szapocznikow. Paysage Humain (du cycle «Paysages Humains») [Human Landscape (from the series Human Landscapes], 1971; felt-tip pen and watercolor on cardboard; 11 13/16 x 19 3/16 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Color is an understated addition to many of the drawings. Sections of light spring green and blush pink lend an air of delicacy to robust line work in the energetic Paysage Humain III [Human Landscape III] (1971). The image roils with orifices and hair; no matter how long the gaze rests on this work, its turbulence refuses to cohere into a resolved equilibrium. On the other side of the gallery, the same colors appear with more force in the final three drawings, which are also some of the most discernibly figurative; coral pinks are brighter and more saturated, skies become turquoise, and the concept of the body as landscape comes into focus.

Alina Szapocznikow. Paysage humain III [Human Landscape III], 1971; Ink, watercolor, and felt-tip pen on paper; 9 1/2 x 12 5/8 in. Courtesy og the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow / Piotr Stanislawski / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Alina Szapocznikow. Paysage Humain III [Human Landscape III], 1971; ink, watercolor, and felt-tip
pen on paper; 9 1/2 x 12 5/8 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/Galerie
Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Szapocznikow, who died in 1973, has been called a proto-feminist; certainly a feminist reading of her sculptures that explore the strength and infirmity of the flesh is fairly uncomplicated. The drawings underscore the idea of feminism as a variant of realism—the ability to acknowledge the strength of living, and the fallibility of desiring, within the body. The images complicate the stereotypically feminine, creating not static, fixed views of physical specificity, but a shifting impression of what it is to be a woman. Szapocznikow deploys abstraction and multiple perspectives in a strategic refusal to be caught in a lie about the body and its longings.

Alina Szapocznikow. Glowa Piotra / Head of Piotr, 1972; Polyester; 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 7 1/16 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow / Piotr Stanislawski / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Alina Szapocznikow. Glowa Piotra/Head of Piotr, 1972; polyester; 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 7 1/16 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

In the center of the gallery, a lone cast-polyester sculpture on a low plinth connects the drawings with the more well-known aspect of Szapocznikow’s oeuvre. A partially flattened bust of her son, Glowa Piotra/Head of Piotr (1972) concretizes the gestures of the drawings and extends their contours into space. Rather than a counterpoint to the works on paper, the sculpture is a symbiotic complement that fixes their implied motion into a singular form. It also highlights the evanescent quality of the drawings as they trace the outlines of the corporeal: intimate, sensuous, and fragile.

Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscape(s) is on view at Loevenbruck Gallery in Paris through May 28, 2016.

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