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Polly Apfelbaum presents six of her space-consuming installations at Belvedere 21
Polly Apfelbaum, "Face (Geometry)( Naked) Eyes", 2016 © Belvedere, Vienna, 2018 / Photo: Sandro Zanzinger. Courtesy of the artist & Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna.

VIENNA.- At the Belvedere 21, the American artist Polly Apfelbaum reveals the relationship between six of her space-consuming installations for the first time. Her holistic composition comprising carpets handwoven in Mexico enters into a dialogue with the open, sunlit architecture of the museum.

‘Her ability to define and transform spaces as well as the interdisciplinary and inviting nature of her art makes Polly Apfelbaum the ideal artist for the first exhibition on the reopened upper floor of the Schwanzer building’, according to Stella Rollig, CEO and curator.

Since the late 1980s, the American and international art world would have been unimaginable without Polly Apfelbaum. A characteristic feature of her multifaceted oeuvre is a hybrid aesthetic that merges traditions from sculpture, painting, arts and crafts, design and installation. The artist draws on a plethora of media to break down the barriers between art and craft. She experiments with ceramic, textiles, paper and handwoven carpets. Apfelbaum is interested in overcoming the domestic and feminine ‘stigma’ of arts and crafts. ‘We need to move away from there being a stigma around words like craft and design, so those titles can’t be used to marginalize certain kinds of work, work that has often been associated with women’, explains the artist in the exhibition catalogue.

Colour, both visually and formally, is a key element in Polly Apfelbaum’s creative work. Themes such as feminism and spirituality, quotations from the history of art, as well as references to popular prints and comics are intrinsic to her art. The exploration of artistic role models like Gene Davis, Morris Louis and Andy Warhol or the examination of stylistic influences like Colour Field Painting, Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art are sometimes obvious and sometimes barely perceptible. The artist connects various thoughts and narrative threads, combining these components into new, independent works. Her pieces are poised on the boundary between abstraction and narration yet deny any definite attribution.

Since the 1990s, Polly Apfelbaum has used the floor as a surface on which to present her ‘Fallen Paintings’. Carpets constitute a consolidation of many facets of her artistic practice. The carpet is of interest to the artist on the one hand as a domestic object, on the other in its significance for nomadic peoples: wherever it is laid down, it becomes a home. Apfelbaum uses it to create (assembly) rooms in which art can be experienced as in a sacred space.

Polly Apfelbaum’s site-specific works enter into a dialogue with their surroundings, the venue and the architecture. Apfelbaum’s intent exploration of space, colour, form and materiality finds its logical progression at the Belvedere 21. Here, the artist is particularly interested in the history of the space – a late-modern building originally designed as the pavilion for the 1958 Expo in Brussels, which was then dismantled and transported to Vienna. Similarly, her work is also about relocating, transplanting and connecting fragments.

Apposite to this year’s motto at the Belvedere 21, ‘Spirit of ’68’, the title of the exhibition is based on the Donovan song Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion from 1968. The simple, forceful form of the canon can also be applied to the exhibition. With Happiness Runs, the artist is adorning this large, ample space for the first time, almost exclusively using carpet works laid on the floor. Visitors can walk on and experience the installations (without shoes). The artist thereby enables them to immerse themselves in these woven colour fields. The exhibition should be understood as an open space for contemplation and as a friendly invitation to participate.

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