In a brief but explosively inventive career, Alina Szapocznikow (1926 – 1973) radically re-conceptualised sculpture as a vehicle for exploring, liberating and declaring bodily experience. ‘To Exalt the Ephemeral: Alina Szapocznikow, 1962 – 1972,’ reveals the full expressive potential of this pioneering Polish artist’s work through the material innovations she made during the last decade of her life and is the first solo presentation of Szapocznikow’s work in the UK since her acclaimed exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2017. A version of this travelling exhibition was first shown at Hauser & Wirth in New York in late 2019. A new title from Hauser & Wirth Publishers features essays by Margot Norton and Pavel Pyś and gives further insights into the work of this remarkable artist.
The details of Szapocznikow’s biography have been well documented and readings of her work have often emphasised her experiences. Born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1926, she survived the horrors of concentration camps as a teenager. In the post-war years, moving from Prague to Paris, she ultimately abandoned the Socialist Realism endorsed by the Polish government, as well as the prevailing winds of modernist abstraction, to embrace Surrealist tendencies and the Pop-influenced New Realism of the Paris avant-garde, championed by Pierre Restany. Working furiously as she cycled through phases of artistic growth, Szapocznikow engaged themes related to the body with full intensity. In the last decade of her life, her experimentation with new materials acquired particular focus and force, yielding works that dramatically challenged the traditional language of sculpture and presaged approaches central to art today. Her work and life were cut short in 1973 when, at the age of 46, she succumbed to cancer.