Paulina Olowska presents a new series of paintings and a video work in Haus Proud, the final exhibition at Metro Pictures before its permanent closure at the end of the year. Olowska considered the special context of the exhibition while producing the works. Informed by her research into women-run exhibition spaces and schools, such as the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture in the United States and the Zakopianska Koronka Klockowa (“Zakopane Bobbin Lace School”) in Poland, the paintings adapt imagery from her ever-increasing collection of vintage fashion advertisements and photographs to continue her longstanding interest in expanding the representation of women in art history.
The portrait The Office of Ester Krumbachová is an homage to the eponymous stage and costume designer, screenwriter, and director. Olowska is drawn to Krumbachová not only for her many contributions to Czech New Wave cinema but also for her influential position behind the scenes, a position typical of women whose labor has often gone underappreciated and unrecognized throughout history. Olowska paints Krumbachová standing in the middle of an office surrounded by posters for the films she worked on in the 1960s.
The School of Archery is one of two paintings based on images by American fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville. Reminiscent of Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Olowska’s painting shows a group of elegantly dressed women in bowler hats lounging in a field, their bows and arrows resting on the grass beside them. The title painting Haus Proud celebrates the professional technical schools of the Soviet Russia, which provided specialized, non-academic vocational training across the Soviet Union. The sgraffito depicted on the wall behind the women alludes to the instruction these schools provided in a wide range of artistic mediums, including mosaics and mural painting.
Together, the paintings imagine a fantasy educational community starring fabulous renaissance women of all stripes—lecturers, students, custodial staff, and a principal with her pet. The video collage work foregrounds the historical basis of this narrative, featuring photographs and documentation from the women-run art schools and institutions that served as the artist’s inspiration. These parallels form the artist’s tribute to her longtime gallery Metro Pictures and the community it has established over its forty-year history.
Olowska’s own practice includes sculpture, installation, and performance. It also extends to collaborative projects such as the Villa Kadenowka, a grand 1930s mansion in a bucolic corner of rural Poland where Olowska hosts artist-led events and happenings. Since 2015 she has served as artistic director of Pavilionesque, a magazine dedicated to art and theater published by the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, the University of Geneva, and most recently the University of Zurich. (Olowska has taught at each.) Earlier this year she presented a newly commissioned performance titled Grotesque Alphabet (After Roland Topor) at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The Kitchen in New York premiered her ballet Slavic Goddesses in 2017, and it was subsequently performed at Milan’s Museo del Novecento in 2018 and again at the 2020 Biennale Gherdëina in Italy. Her performance commission Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard of the Favorites will debut at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2022.
She has had major one-person exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. She received the prestigious Aachen Art Prize in 2014, with an associated exhibition at the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen, Germany.
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