Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture - Lampe VIII

20 November 2015 - 15 January 2016 The Box

In The Box, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to present a significant work from the early 1970s by Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow (b.1926; d.1973). Griselda Pollock, acclaimed feminist art historian and Director of Research at the University of Leeds, will be writing a new text to accompany the project.


Regarded as one of the most significant post-war sculptors of the 20th century, Szapocznikow is renowned for producing tinted, polyester casts of the human body characterised by both sensuality and trauma. During the late 1960s and early 70s, the artist made a series of fetishistic ‘lamps' and utilitarian objects that piece together breasts and mouths cast from the artist's own body. In Sculpture - Lampe VIII (1970), Szapocznikow illuminates the underside of the lips with a light bulb, lending the work a seductive, yet eerie, glow. Sitting atop the lamp, a breast serves as a pink beret, adding to the risqué nature of the work. However, the fragmented nature of Szapocznikow’s sculptures arguably speaks to the distress which pervaded her life. Having been interned in several concentration camps during WWII, the artist was to face further adversity when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1969, subsequently dying at the age of 47.



Alina Szapocznikow Sculpture Lampe VIII, 1970

Text by Griselda Pollock
4 November 2015


Her head appears arched back on her neck, full, glossy lips luminous in the eyeless face. Its missing upper forms are jauntily obscured by what at first sight might be read as a deliciously pink beret. As we look more closely we realize it is not a hat, but the draped cast of a woman’s breast peaking at its nipple. Fleshy forms have been cast in chemical resins, becoming hardened, incomplete echoes of a once-warm flesh now translated into a household object. An overworked Freudian imagination might cry out: Orality! when confronting this ecstatic yet mournful montage of pouting lips with tinted floating breast that wavers on the stem of an electric lamp illuminating both mouth and breast from within. Is this work about being consumed or consuming? Is this about sexuality or its abjection? Is this life or is this death?

Like no one else in post-war European art, Polish-born sculptor Alina Szapocznikow (1926-1973) trod the finest line between delight and excruciating suffering. Her works offer playful engagements with French Pop Art, with Duchamp’s readymade wit, and the ever- present legacies of pre-war surrealism and the surreal object.

This work dates from 1970 when the sculptor was setting the age-old practice of sculptural casting from the body adrift in a technological age. The impossible contradictions of the vulnerable body and the brutality and terrifying glamour of the machine was part of her unforgotten and silenced memory of living through both genocidal fascism and post-war Stalinist communism. Moving between Warsaw and Paris during her early artistic career, Szapocznikow had embraced sculpture as a means of remaking a broken world through forming the human body as whole. Sustained by the heroic projects of socialist realism in Poland during the 1950s, encounters with mid-century modernist informel sculpture led the artist to working with malleable materials that turned the sculptural tables towards the undoing of form. Playing with the new realism of the early 1960s in Paris, Szapocznikow made a lower face cast as early as 1962, putting these floating mouths on stems in 1964, using them alone or multiplied in works titled Self Portrait 1965-66, illuminating her lips in 1966-67 before returning to these sculpture lamps in 1970. By then a breast, sign of her sexuality and of a menacing illness from which she ultimately died in 1973 aged forty-six, joined her enigmatic Mona Lisa non-smile to forge what she called ‘clumsy objects’. In 1972, the sculptor wrote these words that illuminate her paradoxical relation to a dichotomy that was the site of her life traumas: the precarious embodiment of the vulnerable but delight-giving human body and the terrible beauty and dangerous force of the machines that human ingenuity created then and uses for destruction.



I have been defeated by the main protagonist, the wonder of our times, the

machine. Today all beauty, the discoveries and testimonies of our times, the

recording of history, all belong to the machine. True dreams belong to it; it is

applauded by the public. I only produce clumsy [or awkward] objects.

Despite everything, I persist in attempting to fix in resin the imprints of our

body: I am convinced that among all the manifestations of perishability, the

human body is the most sensitive, the only source of all joy, all pain, all

truth...On the level of consciousness because of its ontological misery which is as inevitable as it is unacceptable.




Szapocznikow's work has been the subject of numerous major international exhibitions. In 2012, she had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which subsequently toured to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (2011-2013). Additional solo exhibitions include the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tel Aviv Museum; Bonniers Konsthall; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Kunsthalle Basel; Camden Arts Centre, London; and the National Museum of Warsaw. Her work features in the public collections of Tate, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Museum of Modern Art, New York and Philadelphia Museum Art. Szapocznikow currently has a solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.