Pawel Althamer Creates Art That’s by the People, for the People at the New Museum

by Rachel Baker on February 21, 2014

This is awesome. Think about the people that live in your community, read this story, and then ponder what art from your community might look like is someone did the exact thing in your home town.

On a recent weekday morning, a clutch of high school students took ink and colored pencils to the walls and floors of the New Museum on New York’s Lower East Side. “They just said it was a big white wall we can paint on,” Esmeralda Marte, 17, told me as she sketched a small-scale abstraction on the museum’s fourth floor. “And that a famous artist was doing it.”

Marte’s efforts were part of a participatory artwork called “Draftsmen’s Congress” and the artist in question was Polish conceptualist Pawel Althamer. Best known among art world insiders, Althamer only this week opened his first American museum show, “Pawel Althamer: The Neighbors,” which occupies three floors of the New Museum until April 13.

“It’s yours. Its mine,” said Althamer, an elfin 46-year-old with searching blue eyes. A child of communism who saw capitalism’s rise in the 1990s, the artist takes pleasure in the work’s collective ownership and the negotiations over space and content that the work engenders. “Our conflict—that’s the game I like. It’s democracy in practice.”

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