Paweł Althamer declares his own people's republic

His debut Beijing show dwells on collaboration and social interaction across borders - so bring a paintbrush
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Draftsmen’s Congress by Paweł Althamer at UCCA, Beijing
Draftsmen’s Congress by Paweł Althamer at UCCA, Beijing

Paweł Althamer is something of a frequent flyer. As we explain in our monograph, travel and transport have proved a lasting metaphor for the Polish fine artist. “Both serve as vehicles for perceptual transformation and as allegories for the artistic journey itself,” writes curator Suzanne Cotter, “in which the artist assumes the role of alien or outsider.”

Althamer has ventured into the Malian hinterlands and to Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. He's participated in last year’s Venice Biennale, and, earlier this year, showed at New York’s New Museum; so a trip to Beijing shouldn’t prove challenging.

 

The Draftmans Congress by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing
The Draftmans Congress by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing

Nevertheless, his debut Chinese exhibition, on now at the 798 Art District in Beijing until the end of the month, does hold special resonances, both for the artist and the venue. Althamer still lives in a Warsaw apartment building built for factory workers during the Communist era, and he cast the faces and bodies of his friends and neighbours for the large-scale sculptural work, Venetians, first shown at the 2013 Biennale.

 

Venetians (2013) by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing
Venetians (2013) by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing

These figures were manufactured at Althamer’s father’s plastics factory, and are currently on show at UCCA, which is itself housed in a Cold-War era, former munitions factory. It’s hard not to think about the vestiges of 20th century communism, as experienced in both Europe and East Asia, when looking into these glossy faces.

Yet Althamer is also engaging with local gallery goers, with Draftsmen’s Congress, his ongoing collaborative project, where he invites visitors to draw on the walls and floor of the exhibition space. Althamer brought The Draftsmen’s Congress to the New Museum, but again, ideas of collective engagement and artistic freedom spring to mind at this iteration, here in China, a country better known for the former rather than the latter. 

 

The Draftmans Congress by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing
The Draftmans Congress by Pawel Althamer at UCCA, Beijing

For more on the exhibition go here. For a richer understanding of Althamer’s life and work buy our monograph, and for a thorough and innovative grounding in Chinese art, past and present take a look at The Chinese Art Book.


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