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Monumental sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard evoke the ancient notion of sublimity. As we look at them in parks, on squares or incorporated into the wondrous architecture of American buildings, they enthuse us with their dynamic form. They testify to the artist's amazing ability to create poetic pieces made of cedar wood and charged with a personal and emotional touch.
During her over 40 years of artistic practice, Ursula von Rydingsvard has acquired the skill to cross the cultural boundaries which reflect her intellectual and psychological development. She is one of the few artists in the world to operate with such a monumental form, combining precision and hard work reminiscent of medieval sculptors with modern abstract art to which she has given her own unique character.
The direct impulse that resulted in holding an exhibition of her works in Poland was the display of six sculptures in the newly restored public space Giardino della Marinaressa, at the 56th Art Biennale in Venice in 2015, organized by Peter Murray and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The display provoked a wide response in the world of art and media. Ursula von Rydingsvard is one of the most famous artists in the United States. Her works can be found in the most important collections and art centres such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Wisconsin, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Storm King Art Center sculpture park near New York and many other important institutions related to culture and science. The artist's importance has grown in the last 20 years.
The exhibition of Ursula von Rydingsvard, who lives and works in New York, is to be presented to the Polish public in three locations: the Polish Sculpture Centre in Orońsk, the National Museum in Krakow, and Łazienki Królewskie Park in Warsaw. It is co-organized by Ursula von Rydingsvard's Studio in New York and the Lelong Gallery.
The subtitle of our exhibition Tylko sztuka/Nothing but Art emphasizes her passion and complete dedication to art. It was inspired by a text written by the artist and presented at the exhibition entitledWhy Do I Make Art? – a litany of sorts listing the spiritual, life-related and artistic reasons behind her work. In her conversation with Mark Rosenthal from 2018, she admits that she couldn't live without art.
The display in the National Museum in Krakow, including eleven sculptures made of cedar wood (and one of animal intestines), eleven drawings and one installation made of ready-made objects, is a representative cross-section of the artist's work, from Untitled (Nine Cones) created just one year after she graduated from the Art Department of Columbia University in 1975 to her latest works like Norduna II or Elegantka. Her sculptures are presented both inside the museum gallery and in public space, in front of the main complex.
Her oldest sculpture Untitled (Nine Cones) (1976) comes from the early period of her artistic work, when the texture of her pieces was undulating, giving them a dynamic character, but was not yet as expressive as her later sculptures. Ocean Floor (1996), a very important work for her artistic portfolio, which includes elements made of animal intestines, was produced during a time of experimenting with different materials. Other sculptures and drawings displayed at the exhibition originate from the most recent period of her work, distinguishable for their confidence and monumental, often dramatic form. The installation calledNic (2002–2021), made of ready-made objects, is a composition of things found and collected by Ursula von Rydignsvard which changes every time the viewer looks at it. On a daily basis, these objects can be found in the artist's studio just like the African sculptures and masks which she collects.
The art of Ursula von Rydingsvard deserves our attention even more given the fact that the artist comes from a Polish and Ukrainian family which was deported for forced labour in Germany during World War II and after that chose to migrate to the United States. Ursula (maiden name: Karoliszyn) was born in Deensen, Germany in 1942. Her parents came from the Podhale region. Her childhood experiences and country of origin left an emotional mark on her work. Towers, wooden bowls, tools, shovels and walls are an echo of her family heritage. Although she has never lived in Poland, she gives her sculptures Polish titles and she feels connected with her motherland.
Her spiritual and intellectual inspiration were artists from the 20th century like Mark Rothko, Wasiily Kandinsky, Sol LeWitt, Giacometti, and Philip Guston. From the very beginning of her artistic work, she has been creating sculptures of cedar wood, as well as from bronze and polyurethane resins. These are inspired by nature and non-European art from Africa, Australia and Oceania, as well as by the tradition of folk art and wooden sculptures (especially the traditions of Podhale). Moreover, the artist also produces drawings on handmade abaca paper with the addition of hair, silk, lace and other materials.
The exhibition is the second display of Ursula von Rydingsvard's art in Poland. The first one occurred in 1992 in the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw and was an important event for the artist, who returned to her home country after 30 years.
Visitors to the exhibition can watch three films about the life, work and art of Ursula von Rydingsvard. Two of them were made by Marcin Giżycki and Peter O'Neill: The Making a „Hand-e-over” (1997) and Unorthodox Geometry (1998) while the third one was directed by Daniel Traub: Into Her Own, 2019 which was recognized as one of the best documentaries in the United States in 2020.
April 30th 2021
 Mark Rosenthal, In Ursula’s Own Voice, p. 22; in: Ursula von Rydingsvard, The Contour of Feeling, The Fabric Workshop and Museum and Hirmer Publishers, 2018.
Implementation of the Ursula von Rydingsvard exhibition in Poland.
Co-financed by the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport.
Exhibition under the honorary patronage of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture, National Heritage and Sport, prof. Piotr Gliński