Pawel Althamer
/ Artforum

Paweł Althamer’s works confront us like mythical creatures and artifacts from a lost civilization; his latest exhibition, “das himmel” (heaven), feels like an archaic stage on which the spirits of nature wield their magical powers.

Although a mantelpiece (FIREPLACE, all works 2024), a lamp (part of the installation THRONE), and a usable whirlpool in the gallery’s courtyard (not an artwork per se, but meant as an interventionary extension of the exhibition space) hint at a certain salon-esque atmosphere, such pieces viewed in concert exude a cosmic-spiritual connection with the natural world and states of trance, which the artist has frequently celebrated in his performances. As so often in his work, people from his life make an appearance: The crowned boy (BRUNO V.) is the son of his friend Krzysztof Visconti; a morbidly burst-open ceramic head (METAMORPHOSIS) portrays his friend Yevgen; the lovers (PINK LOVERS and BLUE LOVERS) are himself and his girlfriend. Althamer’s use of organic materials lends his reincarnations a lifelike aura—which takes on uncanny traits in the central figure: HILDEGARDA, a depiction of twelfth-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen, who had visions, carried out cosmological studies on herbal medicine and sexuality, and composed liturgical chants. Althamer, who is interested in religious and folkloric rituals, elevates her to a fantastical goddess with breasts and a penis. The grammatical pitfall in the title “das himmel” (the masculine “Himmel”normally takes a masculine “der,” rather than the neutral “das”) is intended to ironically disrupt the promise of a biblical paradise. At the same time, the artist gives more space to the themes of spirituality, transformation, and healing—which have always accompanied his work—without resorting to kitsch and clichés. Althamer does not play the shaman like Joseph Beuys. He leaves his ego out of it—and shows us the world as a place of contemplation with the possibility of metamorphosis.