Pawel Althamer

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apartheid, borderline experience, exclusion, justice, reality
Visual Arts (Conceptual Art, installation art, participation art, performance, portrait, sculpture, video art)
Europe, Eastern
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October 30, 2008
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Pawel Althamer
Pawel Althamer. Copyright gallery neugerriemschneider.


Shamanism and Empowerment

"I believe in shamanistic art, in working with one´s outer and inner worlds and learning about oneself amid the universe, amid others and amid the many ´selves´ - people, animals and plants. This will change my picture of the world, or worldview, on a number of occasions, no doubt, as I "lay myself open" to confrontation with thoughts, feelings and beliefs of other - the same - people" – these were the words of Pawe? Althamer in an interview with Gerald Matt. Althamer´s work is extraordinarily diverse and includes sculptures, performances, installations and films. Althamer effortlessly succeeds in blending reality and fiction, art and life – so that, in many of his works, they can no longer be distinguished or separated.
Althamer began his artistic development with sculptural work, often life-size self-portraits or portraits of family members, which, through the use of wax, hair or cloth, appeared organic and turned into a kind of alter ego of the person portrayed.

Althamer earned international renown above all for his action art in conjunction with "non-artistic" protagonists. Here, he assumes the role of the director, mediator or catalyst, who launches processes whose subsequent development or result he can no longer influence. It is this work with the pariahs of society that also connects him to artists such as Katarzyna Kozyra and Artur ?mijewski, who, like Althamer, attended the classes of the sculptor and action artist Grzegorz Kowalski at the Warsaw Academy of Art. He often works with outsiders, with people who live on the edge of society (the seriously or terminally ill, the homeless, socially disadvantaged youths). In doing so, he assumes social responsibility, without drifting off into social romanticism or simple documentarism. The thin line he sometimes walks with his work became evident through his contribution to the Berlin Biennial 2006, "Fairy Tale": he launched a petition aimed at saving a young Berlin Turk from deportation to Turkey. The only items displayed at the exhibition were a single running shoe belonging to the young man and a protest letter calling on people to support the campaign. The art action, which was criticised as instrumentalising and "turning into art" the fate of an individual, achieved its goal: the young man was not deported.

Through numerous projects, Althamer has highlighted the overall social, educational and cultural responsibility and duty of art institutions, integrating groups in his exhibitions and projects which are generally left out by the same institutions, because they do not belong to any educated, bourgeois target audience. In one project in 2005, he placed the museum staff in the spotlight: the people, namely, who are at the very bottom of the institutional hierarchy and are hardly noticed, although it is they who make the enjoyment of art and culture possible in the first place. Althamer wrote a script for "Staff en plein air" which was realised by art institutions (Zach?ta in Warsaw and Kunsthalle in Vienna). It comprised an international exchange with professional colleagues, preceded by courses in German, English and art history. Elegant uniforms aimed at creating an ´image´ were designed for the journey. The tour programme included visits to museums, work placements in partner institutions and a closing ceremony with local colleagues. This "empowerment" suddenly placed the staff, whose main virtue is otherwise regarded as reservedness and a high level of invisibility, at the centre of attention, while their work was valued and appreciated to a greater degree. Althamer regarded his concept not as a form of criticism or calling into question of the art institutions, which – as he says – he did not want to "turn upside down", rather to "turn the right way up" and help them to function in accordance with their true purpose – interpersonal communication.

In February 2000, along with the residents of his high-rise apartment block in the Warsaw district of Bródno, with its prefabricated tower blocks, Althamer realised the project "Bródno 2000". In a process spanning several months, he persuaded 200 resident individuals, families and groups, to turn their lights on or off for half an hour at an agreed time in February 2000, so that the huge figure 2000 lit up the Warsaw sky - a positive concerted expression of all the inhabitants. "Bródno 2000" oscillates somewhere between popular festival, light sculpture and action art.

In "So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind", a video installation from 2003/2004 in collaboration with Artur ?mijewski, Althamer embarks on a journey through his subconscious, in which he exposes himself to the effects of drugs (peyote, hashish, LSD, magic mushrooms), allows himself to be injected, under medical supervision, with a truth serum, undergoes hypnosis and loses himself in spontaneous play with his daughter Weronika. Thus, during these consciously induced losses of control, Althamer experiences a universe of diverse impressions and emotions – he laughs uncontrollably under the influence of drugs, has an altered perception of his body and surroundings after taking LSD, and, under hypnosis, experiences terrible war situations from the perspective of a small child. The viewer sees the artist and the full spectrum of his drug or trance-induced emotions, which are exposed under controlled, "normal" conditions and determined by third parties: he becomes a lone child in the middle of a world war, he becomes an ancient warrior, he communicates with plants, animals and God and gives observers an idea of what might be lurking inside themselves too, if they were to leave the constraints of "normal" life. Through this work, Althamer stages himself as a shaman. His experiments are to be regarded as shamanistic techniques, which place the artist in alternative states of consciousness and allow the "ego" to communicate with itself and the world in its various forms of existence on a different level.

These are situations on the border between drama and reality, between art and life. He also explores the question of whether this difference is always recognisable and whether it really exists in "Realtime Movie", a work which was realised for the London exhibition "The World as a Stage". A cinema trailer and posters heralding the slogan "Come. See. Experience" invited people to the Borough Market (30 November 2007, 11.30 a.m.), where the film star Jude Law and other unknown protagonists were scripted to repeat the action in the trailer live and without cameras. Those who appeared, in addition to Law, included a jogger, a woman taking photographs, and a tourist, who all – according to Althamer – appeared in "so-called reality". Jude Law, therefore, was supposed to act as a bridge between film and reality. The trailer to the performance portrayed the thoughts of the character played by Law, which communicated that he felt "one with the world": "In the long run, we can all be sure of happiness". Althamer´s hope was that the audience who were hoping to see Law and the film would discover the beauty of everyday life and that they would take over the role of the actor or director without depending on an artist´s guidance.

It is this belief in the creativity that lies within each and every individual that informs Althamer´s art. It is reminiscent of the Polish futurist Bruno Jasie?ski, who, in his 1921 "Manifesto Regarding the Immediate Futurisation of Life" had already claimed that: "Everybody can be an artist".
Author: Petra Stegmann


Group Exhibitions (Selected)

2008 After Nature, New Museum, New York, USA / Periphere Blicke und kollektive Körper, Museion, Bozen, Italy / Shifting Identities, Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland / Double Agent, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, UK / Double Agent, Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Cventry, UK / Le dernier qui parle, College Fonds Regional d´art Contemporain Champagne-Ardenne, France / Double Agent, ICA, London, UK / Eyes Wide Open, aanwinsten acquisitions Stedelijk Museum & The Monique Zaife Collection, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / 2007 The world as a stage, Tate Modern, London, UK / Volksgarten, die Politik der Zugehörigkeit, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria / Skulptur Projekte Münster 07, Münster, Germany / Traum und Trauma. Works from the collection Dakis Joannou, Athens, Kunsthalle Wien/ Halle 2 and MUMOK/Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, Austria / Pensa, Piensa, Think, Centre d’Art Santa MoniCA, Barcelona, Spain / The Present: The Monique Zajfen Collection, Stedelijk Museum CS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Quantity as quality, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna, Austria / 2006 1,2,3… Awangardia, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland / The exotic journey ends, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, Poland / You won’t feel a thing. On panic, obsession, rituality and anesthesia, Kunsthaus Dresden, Dresden, Germany / The grand promenade, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece / What have I done to deserve this?, Cubitt Gallery, London, UK / Of mice and men, Berlin Biennale 4, Berlin, Germany / Sculptures in the park, Villa Manin, Udine, Italy / 2005 Not a drop but the fall, Künstlerhaus Bremen, Bremen, Germany / egocentric, immoral, outmoded, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland / Gott sehen, Karthause Ittingen, Ittingen, Switzerland / 9th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey / Einstein Spaces, Archenhold-Sterwarte, Berlin, Germany / Kollektive Kreativität (with Artur Zmijewski), Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany / Das unmögliche Theater, Kunsthalle Wien, A; Barbican Art Galleries, London, UK / 1st Moscow Biennial, Moscow, Russia / Akademie. Kunstlehren und lernen (with Artur Zmijewski and the Nowolipie Group), Kunstverein in Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany / 2004 Warschau-Moskau, 1990-2000, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland; Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow, Russia / De ma fenêtre, des artistes et leurs territoires..., École nationale Superieure des Beaux- Arts, Paris, France / Powinno?? i bunt. Akademia Sztuk Pi?knych w Warszawie 1944–2004 (Duty and Rebellion. Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw 1944–2004), Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland / Utopia Station, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany / challenge, Center of Contemporary Art, Trnava, Poland / 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA / NOWA HUTA. Kunst aus polnischer Sicht, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany / Interkosmos 2004, Raster, Warsaw, Poland / Artists’ Favourites, ICA Institute of Contemporary Art Gallery, London, UK / Atomkrieg, Kunsthaus Dresden, Dresden, Germany / Abstrakter Expressionismus in der zeitgenössischen figurativen Skulptur; Galerie Johan König, Berlin, Germany / Akademy East / West, Tanzquartier Vienna, Vienna, Austria / Dreaming of a better world in six parts, BAK, Utrecht, The Netherlands / De kleine Biennale, Utrecht,The Netherlands / Was ist in meiner Wohnung wenn ich nicht da bin?, Greifswalderstr. 212, Berlin, Germany / 2003 Way of life…, Center for Contemporary Art ?a?nia, Gda?sk, Poland / Art Focus 4 (with Artur ?mijewski), Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel / Institutional Aesthetics, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland / Views 2003 / The Deutsche Bank Cultural Foundation Award, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland / Bring on the Clowns, Frieze Art Fair Projects, London, UK / street level/Simplon Tunnel, Simplon, Switzerland / Hidden in a Daylight, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Cieszyn, Poland / The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist, curated by Jens Hoffmann, Dreams and Conflicts-The Viewer´s Dictatorship, Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy / 2002 Warum, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany / „I promise it’s political”, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany / In Prague, Galeria Vaclava Spaly, Prag, Czech Republic / The Collective Unconsciousness, Migros Museum, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich, Switzerland / A Need for Realism. Solitude in Ujazdowski, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland / 2001 „Ausgeträumt...”, Secession, Vienna, Austria / Jubilee exhibition, Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw, Poland / Poetry Summer, Watou, Belgium / Polnische Kunst nach 1989, Muzeum Narodowe W Warszawie, Warsaw; Polenmuseum Rapperswil, Rapperswil, Poland / Abbild. Recent portraiture and depiction, Landesmuseum Joanneum Graz, Austria / Museum unserer Wünsche, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany / 2000 Neue Welt, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt a. Main, Germany / Re:Location, OK Centrum für Gegenwart Kunst, Linz, Austria / V- Interntional Communities, Rooseum Centre for Contemporary Arts, Malmö, Sweden / Progetto Bovisa, Triennale di Milano, Milano, Italy / Finale di Partita, Biagiotti Progetto Arte, Firenze, Italy / Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, France / 1999 In Freiheit/eindlich. Polnische Kunst nach 1989, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden, Germany / Manifesta 3, Ljubljana, Slovenia Colored Grey 1956 – 1970, Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw, Poland / Amateur 1900-2000, Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Goteborg, Sweden / City Sleepers, Midnight Walkers (public project), Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Fauna, Galeria Zacheta, Warsaw, Poland / 14th Contemporary Art Days, Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland / Welcome to the Art World, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany / Artists-in-Residency, Hoffmann Sammlung, Berlin, Germany / 1998 Passport: Exchange, (Ex)change, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Arthouse Multimedia Centre, Dublin, Irland; Galeria Zacheta, Warsaw, Poland / Parteitag II, Galeria a.r.t, Plock, Poland / 1998 There is Nothing Like A Bad Coincidence, Medium Gallery, Bratislava, Slovakia / Poliptyk, BWA, Katowice, Poland / 1997 Documenta X, Kassel, Germany / Parteitag I, artists’ studios, Warsaw, Poland / 1996 The Garden of Arts, city park, Biala Podlaska, Poland / Me and AIDS, Kino Stolica, Warschau, Galeria a.r.t, Plock, Poland / 1994 Germinations 8, European Biennale for Young Artists, Academie St. Joost / Hogeschool West-Brabant, Breda, B; Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw, Poland / 1993 Unvollkommen, Museum Bochum, Bochum, Germany / 1993 Sonsbeek ´93, Arnhem, The Netherlands / 1992 Die andere Seite, Ludwig Forum, Aachen, Germany / A Home Exhibition of Photographs, private apartment, Warsaw, Poland / Studies of the Nude, Galeria a.r.t., Plock, Poland / Polish Contemporary Art, Espace Periresc, Toulon, France / 1991 Magicians and Mystics, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland / Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Warsaw, Poland

Solo Exhibitions (Selected)

2007 one of many, Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano, Italy / black market, Gallery neugerriemschneider, Berlin, Germany / 2006 In the Centre Pompidou, Espace 315, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France / 2005 Pawe³ Althamer zachêca (Pawe³ Althamer Incites), Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland / 2004 The Vincent Van Gogh Biannual Award for Contemporary Art in Europe, Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, The Netherlands / 2003 So genannte Wellen und andere Phänomene des Geistes, mit Artur Zmijewski, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany / Gallery neugerriemschneider, Berlin, Germany / Chiesa di San Matteo, Lucca, Italy / The Wrong Gallery, New York, USA / 2002 The Fancy-dress Ball, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland / Trieste Contemporanea, Trieste, Italy / Unsichtbar, Alexanderplatz (project in public space), Berlin, Germany / Prisoners, Kunstverein Münster, Münster, Germany / Le cinema itinerant / De rondreizende cinema, various locations, Belgium / 2001 Weronika (project in public space), Amden, Switzerland / House on the Tree, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, Poland / Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA / 2000 Bródno 2000 (public project), Warsaw, Poland / Galeria BWA, Zielona Gora, Poland / 1999 Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, Poland / 1998 CCA, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland / 1997 Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland / Bródno, Cinema Tecza, Warsaw, Poland / Kosmonauta, Galeria a.r.t. , Plock, Poland / 1996 Life after Death, Galeria Kronika, Bytom, Poland / Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, Poland / 1995 Miejsce Gallery, Cieszyn, Poland / 1994 Fairy-tale, Galeria WOK, Warsaw, Poland / 1993 Studies from Nature, Galeria a.r.t., Plock, Poland / Diploma, Galeria a.r.t., Plock, Poland / 1992 Galeria a.r.t., Plock, Poland /


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Rational / Irrational

(08 November 08 - 11 January 09)
So genannte Wellen u. andere Phänomene des Geistes
So genannte Wellen u. andere Phänomene des Geistes
So genannte Wellen u. andere Phänomene des Geistes