This fall, the first Dutch solo presentation by artist Paulina Olowska (b. Gdansk, Poland, 1976) opened at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
. Olowska, whose work was introduced in the Netherlands at the Stedelijk Museum Post CS (SMCS) in 2004, is one of the most fascinating artists of her generation.
Exhibition curator Leontine Coelewij explains: Having followed the work of Paulina Olowska for over 10 years, I am thrilled that, after showing her work at the SMCS, we are now able to mount a more comprehensive survey. By creating connections between fashion, art, and feminism, and proposing alternatives to the roles that visual art and design can play within our society, Olowska is a unique voice in contemporary art.
The exhibition encompasses painting, drawing, collage, and neon signage in an extraordinary theatrical installation. The artist is fascinated by the revolutionary potential of modernist art and design, folk art, and radical avant-gardes. In her work, she often explores different presentation typologies, examining boutique and bar interiors and the bright neon signs that enlivened the streets of Warsaw in the 1960s and 70s. The relationships between art, design, and ideology and avant-garde and glamour are the hallmarks of Olowskas work.
Olowskas oeuvre is informed by a profound awareness of cultural and historical themes. Her work refers to utopian movements of the past (such as the Russian avant-gardes of the 1920s and the Polish punk movement of the 80s) and to the oeuvres of women artists such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Pauline Boty, and Zofia Stryjenska. Olowska also examines examples of magazine design like Ty i ja Magazyn Ilustrowany (You and I), a fashionable womens journal published in the 1960s and 70s that introduced avant-garde Western art to Poland.
The title of the exhibition, Au Bonheur des Dames, can describe different feminine types of consumption, behavior, and interests: strolling through town, shopping, relaxing, and fashion (bonheur is French for happiness or delight). The artist draws parallels between facets of the many social and economic changes in Polish society during her youth and the 19th-century Paris of Émile Zola, as portrayed in his 1883 novel of the same title. Having lived in both East and West, Olowska searches for a dialogue between the two worldsin some cases, as she states, looking for a remedy for Western Capitalism.
Besides a selection of paintings and collages produced in recent years, her 16-part series Accidental Collages (2004; recently acquired by the Stedelijk) relates to Kazimir Malevichs charts setting out his theory of painting. The neon installation Palimpsest (2006), part of a long-term project, integrates neon signs that formerly lit the streets of 1960s and 70s Warsaw and now, following restoration, have regained their function in a different public space. Olowska will also present her project Café Bar (2011), an installation she constructed in the former museum restaurant of the National Gallery of Art in Krakow. Here, she combines the original modernist tubular steel furniture from the staff canteen of the Polish museum with a monumental painting and pencil drawings depicting scenes from the Stedelijk Museum and the National Gallery of Art.
Paulina Olowska was born in Poland and grew up in a time of great political, economic, and cultural upheaval. For several years, she studied in the United States (at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Her work debuted in the Netherlands at the Stedelijk Museum Post CS in the 2004 group exhibition Time and Again.
Olowskas work was recently featured in a number of important international exhibitions: the 5th Biennial for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2008); Ostalgia, New Museum, New York (2011); and Ecstatic Alphabets, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012). Her solo presentations include exhibitions at Portikus, Frankfurt am Main (2007); Tramway, Glasgow (2010); and Kunsthalle Basel (2013). The artist will take part in the 56th Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, later this year.