press release

The Polish artist Pawel Althamer (1967 Warsaw) is both a traditional sculptor and a radical performance artist, and in his practice as an artist he manages to bring these two divergent disciplines together in a significant and intriguing synthesis. His works include folkloric-looking sculptures shaped like human figures which are made up of natural and organic materials, such as hay, pig's bladders and animal testicles. These ‘animated self-portraits' can be seen as sculptural reincarnations of the artist himself.

These works appear radically different to Althamer's socially-engaged performances, activities and events, in which he gives people a role which they cannot play, or can no longer play, in daily life. These roles are given sometimes to actors, but more often to individuals on the fringes of society – tramps, alcoholics, pensioners and children. Though these performances possess an unmistakeable political undertone, the result is determined by the degree of involvement from the participants, which often turns out to be surprisingly light-hearted and humorous. With artist and friend, Artur Zmijewski, Althamer also develops penetrating video documentaries in which the artist is filmed whilst under the influence of hallucinogenic substances, in moments of changing consciousness.

The artist Althamer assumes first one role and then another, like a chameleon, switching effortlessly from traditional sculptor to director, and from traditional work to the sophistication of flat screen video installations. This means that his work – beyond the presence of formal, conceptual and strategic characteristics – mainly generates attention for the motif running through his oeuvre; an oeuvre which, besides being political and existential, is undeniably spiritually inspired.

In many works, Althamer links the notion of the artist as eternal outsider to the isolated position of Polish artists in relation to the Western art world. However the main theme running through Althamer's oeuvre is alienation; the far-reaching isolation of the individual in contemporary society. Althamer's unremitting efforts to reach a state of detachment, whether through labour-intensive sculptures functioning as reincarnations of himself, through the use of psychotomimetic drugs, or through taking up the aloof, yet involved, position of ‘observer' in all his performances, is connected to the question which Althamer keeps on asking himself: how can mankind regain the ability to face up to the world, just as it is, with an open mind and thus experience its all-embracing beauty and goodness once more.

The exhibition is built up around Althamer's three most important activities. On display are a complete overview of his traditional sculptures and a video installation consisting of eight portraits of the artist. The third part of the exhibition is a ten-day workshop preceding the award ceremony and opening, the results of which will be included in the exhibition. During this workshop, ten boys aged 14-15 from the dreary suburbs of Warsaw – including two of Althamer's sons – will give their own account of a stay in ‘paradise', as Althamer - not without irony - likes to call the southernmost city of the Netherlands.

The Vincent van Gogh Biannual Award of Contemporary Art in Europe Every other year The Bonnefantenmuseum organises on initiative of the Broere Charitable Foundation The Vincent van Gogh Bi-annual Award for Contemporary Art in Europe. The prize consists of a sum of € 50.000, a solo exhibition and a catalogue. THE VINCENT is a homage to a contemporary European artist, aged between 35 and 45 years old, whose work proved to be outstanding in the critical statements of today.

THE VINCENT is an initiative of the Broere Charitable Foundation and is organised by the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, the Netherlands. The Broere Charitable Foundation has installed THE VINCENT in memory of the late Monique Zajfen, patron of the arts. The award is dedicated to the European Community trusting that it will stimulate the visual artists, while enhancing communication in a free, united and peaceful Europe. The Province of Limburg and the City of Maastricht support THE VINCENT to commemorate the European Maastricht Treaty of 1992. GITP International B.V. will co-sponsor the exhibition in the Bonnefantenmuseum.

In 2000 the Finnish video artist Eija Liisa Ahtila, Helsinki (FL) was honoured THE VINCENT by a jury presided by Sir Nicholas Serota (director of Tate Gallery, London (UK). Under the presidency of Harald Szeemann (commissioner Venice Biennial, 1999 and 2001), the German painter Neo Rauch was awarded the edition of 2002.

The Jury 2004 The chairman of THE VINCENT 2004 jury is Kasper König, director of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (FRG) Other members of the jury are Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (UK), Nuria Enguita Mayo, chief curator of Fundació Antoni Tapiès, Barcelona (E), Neo Rauch, winner of THE VINCENT 2002, Leipzig (FRG) and Alexander van Grevenstein, director of the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht.


The Vincent 2004
Winner Pawel Althamer