Paweł Althamer’s Sculpture Show At Whitechapel Gallery In London

Contemporary Lynx visited the exhibition entitled Love Meal in East London where Paweł Althamer’s work can be seen until 9 June alongside other international artists: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Tobias Rehberger, Cerith Wyn Evans and Damian Ortega. This is an interesting presentation of selected, rarely seen installations, video art and sculpture, from privately owned art collection – Sandretto Re Rebaudengo from Turin.

Pawel Althamer, Self- portrait, 1993, grease, wax, mixed media ©Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Pawel Althamer’s hyper-realistic sculpture, made out of wax, grease, hair and intestines, presents the necked artist, but older than his real age. The yellowish figure gazes at the visitor in a disturbing way. It looks like an alien body descended on earth from another planet.  Althamer’s work was originally presented at his degree show at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw along with a video that showed the artist leaving the Academy and disappearing in the forest. Self-portrait and transitions states have long been central theme in his work, reflected in his numerous depiction of himself. For instance, Self-Portrait as a Businessman (2002), comprises the artist’s clothes and personal items (today in Tate Modern Collection) or Self-Portrait in a Suitcase( 1996), depicted  miniature versions of himself (private collection, Switzerland).

Pawel Althamer, Self-Portrait as a Businessman 2002, with additions 2004, ©Tate Modern Collection

At Whitechapel Althamer’s work gains new meaning by being juxtaposed with Felix Gonzales Torres’s Untitled- Love Meal (1992). Next to the voyeuristic image of a necked man, hangs a rope of 42 light bulbs. This is Felix’s memorial and tribute to his dead partner Ross Laycock. Knowing that light bulbs tend to burn out, the work seems to talks about artist’s fear of losing beloved man and being alone. Minimalistic and decorative ribbon of light-bulbs juxtapose with Althamer’s disturbing real size self- portrait gives a bit of absurd effect, leaving a message about the fragility of life. Though the aesthetic differ so much in both artworks, both pieces suggest the transient nature of relationships and of the body itself. This is a great example of how works in a collection complement and strengthen one another. It also highlights the importance of collaboration between collectors and curators.

Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled. Love Meal,1992, light bulbs, extension cord, courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

This exhibition is a part of Whitechapel Gallery’s ongoing programme showing rarely seen public and private collections. A catalogue Think Twice: Twenty Years of Contemporary Art from Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo accompanied the display. The fully –illustrated book offers opportunity to aspiring collectors to learn more about collecting art. A revealing conversation between the curator Achim Borchardt-Hume – former Chief Curator at Whitechapel Gallery and a collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s give an inside look on her adventure with collecting contemporary art that has started in early 90s. You can find out how the collection has originated and transformed into art foundation and education centre. There is also an interesting text by Francesco Bonami – artistic director of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rerbaudenga who talks about value, timelessness and decision- making while creating a collection.

The cover of a catalogue Think Twice: Twenty Years of Contemporary Art from Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo that accompanied the exhibition Love Meal. Photo taken by ©Contemporary Lynx at the Whitechapel Gallery cafe.

More information:

Whitechapel Gallery is the first purpose built art gallery in London.  Established by 19 century philanthropist Canon Barnett and his wife Henrietta in 1901 to showcase the finest art of the world for the people of the East End.  Refurbished and reopened in 2009, Whitechapel’s mission remains unchanged and continues to shape London cultural landscape through displaying excellent, world-class artists. The gallery’s hallmark events include: Picasso’s Guernica was displayed here in 1938. The Pop Art show ‘This is Tomorrow’ in 1956. Lucian Freud had his major exhibition in 1993. There are also Polish traces:  In 2009, Goshka Macuga exhibited as a part of Bloomberg Commission. In 2011, Wilhelm Sasnal had his solo show.

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo was officially set up in Turin in 1995 by contemporary art collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The Artistic Direction of the Fondazione is entrusted to Francesco Bonami. The Fondazione’s main aim is to encourage a greater understanding of contemporary art and of today’s leading trends at an international level.

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About The Author


Founder of Contemporary Lynx (2013). Editor-in-chief of the Contemporary Lynx in print and online. The art historian with a Master of Arts degree in Arts Policy & Management (the University of London, Birkbeck College) and Master of Arts in History of Art (Jagiellonian University in Cracow).

About the Artist:

Paweł Althamer, Windbreakers 2018. Photo by Jacek Markiewicz.


Based in Warsaw, studied in the Sculpture Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw between 1988 and 1993, where sculptor and performance artist Grzegorz Kowalski (born 1942) taught him. Althamer was influenced by Kowalski’s focus on process-based and interactive art, becoming one of the groups known as Kowalski’s Workshop or the Kowalnia Smithery, the leading group of young Polish artists of the 1990s. (Tate's website). To find out more click here

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