polyurethane, marble, aluminum
Female artists to this day don’t get enough spotlight in the art world, with most artworks depicting women exhibited in museums being still nudes made by male artists. At Artbuk, we’ve decided to challenge the status quo and talk about three Polish female sculptors: the late Alina Szapocznikow, Barbara Falender and Agata Agatowska.
In the art of each of these three artists we find very different approaches to female presence and femininity at large. Not only do they focus on different aspects, but also use completely different materials that make their work be received in a particular way. Szapocznikow is big on passing and corporeality presented without any embellishments; Falender navigates the sexual sphere with utmost sensuality; Agatowska exposes female strength, with her woman being depicted as a majestical creature resembling a futuristic goddess. I’ve chosen to focus on these three sculptors because, when taken together, their oeuvre blends into a very interesting image of women in art.
Alina Szapocznikow, who passed away in 1973 after years of battling breast cancer, approached the subject of the human body, and more specifically the female body, very personally. She would observe it selectively, picking out individual fragments of the whole. Multiple Portrait, one of her most recognizable works, is a composite of four casts of her own face shown down to the line of the nose. In the Bellies series, she shows the body without unnecessary idealization – it is plump and wrinkled. She would also turn single breasts into works of art, but not those from magazine covers, but real ones – small and asymmetrical. Szapocznikow used vinyl or polyurethane mass that resembled the human body. She commemorate the body while it was still alive, protecting it from oblivion. It is this very theme of transience and fragility that stands out in Szapocznikow’s work.
Barbara Falender, while also focusing on the female body, often displays only its specific parts, does it in an entirely different way. Her works are full of vital strength, life and sexual energy. Her Erotic Pillows is a series of sculptures that balances on the verge of realism and abstraction, exposing the softness of female sexual organs. The smooth, polished marble surface seems to be the perfect material for that. Let us also note that the marble itself – an extremely expensive and valuable stone – gives the Pillows a unique character. Ancient gods, kings and Christian saints have all been carved into this stone, and now it’s vaginas with anatomical yet sentimental accuracy.
Lastly, the women in Agata Agatowska’s works are proud, majestic and timelessly beautiful. On the one hand, they bring to mind ancient goddesses with classical, symmetrical and monumental facial features; on the other hand, due to the use of polished aluminum, they can easily be associated with robots or Transformers – the popular heroes of Japanese anime. When looking for references to pop culture, we can also recall Lady Gaga’s metal dresses from the song Paparazzi or Beyoncé in Sweet Dreams. These comparisons do not seem too exaggerated if we consider the name of the series, Catwalk, which literally means a fashion runway for models. That said, the stiff upright poses and emotionless faces are not as serious as it might seem, because the artist dresses some of her protagonists in headgear that resembles Mickey Mouse’s ears. Through that treatment, it makes her women even more enigmatic and mysterious.
Polyurethane, marble, and aluminum – the materials used by Szapocznikow, Falender and Agatowska, respectively, are a good metaphor for how diverse these female artists’ oeuvre is and how the woman is seen through their eyes.