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Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard of the Favorites

Apr 23, 2022



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Emmanuelle, 2020

Paulina Olowska

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. 

2  Paulina Olowska Naughty Nymphs In The Courtyard 2020 Collage Courtesy Of The Artist

Naughty Nymphs in the Courtyard, 2020

Paulina Olowska

About Iterations

Iterations is a series of new performance commissions that underline the wide range of artistic practices and attitudes in performance today. Over the course of three years (2019–2021), the series will present works by Alexandra Bachzetsis, Math Bass, Cevdet Erek, Ralph Lemon, Paulina Olowska, Cally Spooner, and Evelyn T. Wang. Learn more.


Iterations is made possible through the generous support of the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.


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