You might think that with just over a week to go until the opening of his new show, Polish artist Paweł Althamer (who has exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2006, Modern Art Oxford in 2009 and a host of international biennials) might be a little concerned that, as he says himself, “There is nothing yet to exhibit.” But even the chiefs of the Deutsche Guggenheim museum in Berlin, where Althamer's show opens on October 28, aren’t concerned. Why? Because the latest work from an artist fascinated by group collaboration will be produced during the exhibition itself, not just by the artist, but by anyone who volunteers to get involved.
Althamer's work is concerned not so much with the final product as with the process of its creation. The artist has relocated a section of his father’s plastic factory, Almech (where the artist became fascinated by the idea of the collective production line), along with its workers, into the exhibition hall at the Deutsche Guggenheim. During the show, Althamer and the workers will use the machines to make life-size sculptures of Deutsche Bank and museum staff as well as gallery visitors. We asked Nat Trotman, curator of the show, to give us a blow- by-blow account of what will be happening once it opens.
"Each portrait sculpture is made in stages: First a silicone cast is taken of the subject´s face. Next a plastic mold is made from that cast and prepared for the sculpture, and finally the cast is attached to a metal understructure and plastic is added from the Almech machines," Trotman said.
Althamer's interest in masks was sparked when travelling in Mali a few years back, on one of the many adventures he’s lead for his ongoing Common Task group project. Dressed in futuristic gold astronaut suits, a collection of friends, family and neighbours from the housing block where the artist lives have been exploring brave new lands (Brazil, England and Belgium) since 2008 and creating real-time films in their roles as 'space travellers'. On the Mali trip, Althamer noticed the way the local communities used masks to connect with the spiritual realm and how the masks allowed an escape from the material world.
The artist returned to Mali this summer, this time dressed as a goat. The inspiration came from cult-classic Polish children’s cartoon Koziołek Matołek, in which a loveable anthropomorphic goat goes on various adventures around the world. Althamer travelled in the guise of the character as a form of living sculpture, meeting locals and recreating the adventures he had read about in cartoons when he was a child.
As in his 2001 piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where he invited a friend to paint the gallery space a different colour every day, Althamer is challenging the idea of the artist as the sole curator of a work of art by working with a group of participators. As he said earlier this year: “Always working with oneself, delving only into one’s interior, is boring; sometimes you have to mix into a group or lose yourself in collaboration.”
Meanwhile, a metal workshop in Warsaw is currently putting the final touches to the 15cm brass sculptures that will form the artwork to accompany Phaidon's Paweł Althamer Collector's Edition. The edition of 50 sculptures, accompanied by a specially bound edition of the artist's monograph, won't be available until the beginning of next year, but we'll be running a preview with photos of the works when they reach Phaidon Towers in the next few weeks. Watch this space.