For Paulina Olowska (born 1976), painting and performance are closely entwined. Her performances function as subtext for her paintings, drawing out reciprocal relationships between scenography and movement, the still image and the moving body. With her newly commissioned work Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard of the Favorites, the artist finds inspiration in the Art Institute’s galleries of American art, where Ellsworth Kelly’s The Chicago Panels (1989–99) surround an atrium housing Neoclassical sculptures—mythological and idealized manifestations of the nude female body. Investigating the sexual politics of space and building upon her long-term interest in images from fashion and advertising, Olowska critically engages with representations of the female body in this performance event.
Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard of the Favorites centers on the particular aesthetic of the soft-core magazine Viva. Specifically developed for female readers, Viva emerged in the 1970s era of “porno chic,” when pornography entered the mainstream consciousness of America. The magazine’s hazy and seductive eroticism—reminiscent of the era’s French Emmanuelle films— combined provocative writing on male and female sexuality with fashion editorials and full-frontal male nudity. Olowska presents this performance in collaboration with five muses adopting the role of nymphs, whose whispers resonate among the marble surfaces of the courtyard turned harem; six transparent paintings by Olowska inspired by Viva; Kelly’s enormous, opaque panels; and the bodies moving between them.
Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard of the Favorites is the fourth installment of Iterations, the Art Institute’s multiyear series of new performance commissions.
Paulina Olowska was born in 1976 in Gdańsk, Poland, and lives and works in Rabka-Zdrój and Krakow, Poland. She has had solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. Olowska received the prestigious Aachen Art Prize in 2014, with an associated exhibition at the Ludwig Forum for International Art, Aachen, Germany. She has also staged performances at Tate Modern, London; the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Olowska presented the ballet Slavic Goddesses—A Wreath of Ceremonies at The Kitchen, New York, in 2017 and Slavic Goddesses and the Ushers at the Museo del Novecento in Milan in 2018. Her work was featured in the 2017 National Gallery of Victoria Triennial in Melbourne and the 2018 Liverpool Biennial, England, as well as in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; mumok, Vienna; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; and the New Museum, New York.
Tara Aisha Willis
Tara Aisha Willis is a dancer and writer, and she currently works as Associate Curator in Performance & Public Practice at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She holds a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University. In 2016–21 Willis performed in What Remains, a collaboration between Will Rawls and Claudia Rankine. She also appeared in the 2016 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie Award”-winning performance by The Skeleton Architecture. In 2022 she will hold a Ragdale Foundation Residency. Her writing appears in The Black Scholar (co-edited with Thomas F. DeFrantz), Marking the Occasion (co-edited with Jaime Shearn Coan), and the exhibition catalogue Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures.
Yana Verba is a Ukrainian-Canadian painter who was born in Ukraine in 1983 and immigrated to Canada in 1999. She is a former fashion model who was represented internationally by Ford and Elite agencies from 2001 to 2008. Verba studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and received a BFA in drawing and painting from OCAD University in Toronto in 2015. She grounds her art practice in a language of abstraction that uses rhythmic patterns, colors, and movement. Verba derives inspiration from Modernists of the early 20th century and currently is working on a series of paintings that echoes Soviet monumental art and Soviet-Ukrainian mosaics. She has exhibited in Canada, the United States, and the Middle East. Verba has lived and worked in California since 2015.
Angelica Holland was born in Chicago and is currently based in Detroit. Since 2020 she has been a life-drawing model, inspiring international artists with her fluid gestures and unique features. Holland is a poet, author, painter, and philosophy enthusiast. She uses her understanding of emotion to convey the indescribable through movement, fashion, and sound.
Roxane Danset-Mahoney was born and raised in the Flanders region of France and started her career in 1999 in Paris, first in charge of press for Martin Margiela, then at Acne. She went on to serve as a fashion editor at Self Service magazine. Danset-Mahoney moved to New York in 2011 to marry a drummer, sculptor, and family man; there they have been raising three boys. In New York she also began to devote her professional attention to styling and fashion consulting. Danset-Mahoney has collaborated on books, exhibitions, and magazine projects with artists including Marina Abramović, K8 Hardy, Rachel Feinstein, Paulina Olowska, and Viviane Sassen.
Cristal Sabbagh practices performance that is rooted in improvisation and Butoh, walking the line between the everyday, the divine, the personal, and the political. By embodying transformational memories while simultaneously celebrating pop culture and the experimental, she challenges power structures and awakens viewers’ senses. Working solo and with collaborators, Sabbagh is equally attuned to individual perspectives and collective structures. In various configurations, these collaborators have regularly engaged in improvised performances, opening up new avenues for Sabbagh’s material and conceptual explorations. She is an interdisciplinary artist and curator and was recently granted a 3Arts Make a Wave award.
Audio Jack, or, who is Erin? For more information, visit www.audiojackdjs.com.
Iterations is made possible through the generous support of the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.