For sculptor Igor Mitoraj—whose solo exhibition, “Traces of Time,” inaugurates Contini Art UK, the newest addition to London’s buzzing gallery scene—art-making is “an attempt to shape into familiar forms the drama of life.” This is a drama about the passage of time, the fleetingness of life, and our age-old quest to stop the clock through the pursuit of beauty and physical perfection. As the artist sees it, “The idea of beauty is ambiguous, a double-edged sword that can easily hurt you, causing pain and torture. My art is an example of this dichotomy: mesmerizing perfection attached to corrupted imperfection.” In the exhibition’s retrospective selection of his bronze, marble, and cast iron sculptures, the artist’s dramatic, physical manifestations of the ravages of time are amply and unflinchingly on view, in the form of bandaged, fractured, and fragmented human bodies and parts, at once idealized and grotesque.
Mitoraj’s figures are modeled after Greco-Roman statuary, in which the human body is represented at its apogee, a timeless vision of sensual, athletic, godlike perfection. In his works, however, our equally timeless and inevitably impossible pursuit of physical impeccability mars beauty, as in Città Perduta II (2005). Set side-by-side atop a roughly hewn and dinged-up marble base, busts of a male and female figure sit, wrapped tightly in bandages. The contours of their faces suggest great beauty hidden beneath the garish bandages, which, in turn, suggest its great cost. Yet more bandages encase Eclisse (1992), a disembodied head seemingly composed of nothing more than its wrappings. Works like Osiride Addormentato Screpolato (2007), a delicate, recumbent face, and Torso del Lago (2002), a lushly muscular male torso, on the other hand, might benefit from some bandaging, since a threatening network of cracks and fissures destroys their solidity and makes manifest the biblical tenet that from dust we come, and to it we shall return. A number of the artist’s works, like Ithaka (1991), have a Surrealist bent. This winged female torso is riddled with pins, her curves oddly interrupted by two small, male heads—an image of beauty made monstrous in the mad quest for its pursuit.
“IGOR MITORAJ: Traces of Time” is on view at Contini Art UK May 23 – September 22, 2014.