Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Ursula von Rydingsvard, Obudować, 2020-21, cedar wood. Photo Joshua Simpson
Ursula von Rydingsvard, Luba at Galerie Lelong & Co.
A solo exhibition of new sculptures and drawings
Until December 17, 2022
528 W. 26th St., Chelsea, Manhattan
Information about the current exhibition Luba at the Galerie Lelong & Co
I Was Here Before (on the Polish titles of UVR’s artworks):
Ursula Von Rydingsvard: I have two thick books, a two-volume Polish-English and English-Polish dictionary. So I open the Polish volume, and keep on pouring over words until one strikes me as the word that fits. It doesn’t really fit, not in a literal way, but kind of… because I don’t want to describe what it is that I am doing.
I don’t like to say “untitled,” but I also don’t want a title that defines the meaning of the piece. You name the piece “Woman with Tears,” and you kill it. Many people look first at the title, seeking an explanation; I don’t think the piece should be explained, the title telling you “what it is.”
Grażyna Drabik: Why do you choose Polish words for many of your art pieces?
UVR: I like Polish because there are not enough Polish speakers in the United States who are able to understand what the words mean. I like the mystery of the word. The sculpture is titled, but the title remains unknown to many who look at the sculpture.
GD: It sounds like a hide and seek game: you offer the name, but also keep a secret.
UVR: Exactly, I almost feel like, “Ha-ha, I got you”…
GD: (You insist on stressing the visceral connection with Poland and the Polish language) and yet the first time you visited Poland, you were 50 years old.
UVR: I had an exhibition at Ujazdowski Castle, upon the invitation of Wojtek Krukowski, a very special man and a generous soul. I wanted so much to listen to women who could sing, you know, the way they used to sing, the old peasant songs. It probably goes back to my mother, her love for Poland and her strength that wouldn’t allow us to die when we really could have died. I begged Wojtek, and he took me to somebody’s house, and then to another…
When these women sang to me, I recognized the songs, beloved songs, and I could barely hold back my tears. That night I couldn’t fall asleep, feverish and filled with such a feeling of happiness, such familiarity.
GD: That may be another reason why you return to the Polish language for your titles.
UVR: I named over half my sculptures with Polish words.
But it’s a weird image, and misleading, because none of it is familiar to me. I wasn’t sung to as a child… My mother never talked to us about her feelings… I don’t know Poland… I cannot have any memories, because I wasn’t even born in Poland.
GD: Perhaps it’s not important whether these are memories or fantasies. The longing for connection is real.
UVR: That’s true. Perhaps it’s my need to preserve this idealized image. There are things that I identify as “Polish” and like so much, though they are not necessarily Polish – like a gesture by one of the women who sang to me, how gently she took the cat off her knees, the physical movement of her hand and her kindness.
Or an encounter with a man who invited me to sit with him in his little garden. He started talking about his brother, from whom he hadn’t heard in a long time. He didn’t realize how big the United States is, couldn’t pronounce the name of the city… But it was clear that it was like an opening in his heart. He missed his brother, who left for America. I could hardly understand him, and yet I felt so close to him.
Or when I arrived in Warsaw, that time in 1992, I walked around the city too jet-legged to sleep, and came upon a group of people gathered on a big lawn, probably in a park. They were talking, loud and friendly, talking and laughing, and it was like, “I was here before. I know these people. I know this place.”
From the interview published in Tylko sztuka/ Nothing but Art (Centrum Rzeźby Polskiej, Orońsko, 2021)
Photo Joshua Simpson
Untitled, 2022, charcoal and graphite of paper. Photo Joshua Simpson
Ursula von Rydingsvard (née Karoliszyn), b. 1942, in Deensen, Lower Saxony, Germany (of the Polish-Ukrainian family from Koszarawa, Beskid Żywiecki). After several years of life in different camps for “displaced refugees,” the Karoliszyn family moved to the US, settling in Plainville, Connecticut. Graduate of University of Miami, Florida (1965) and Columbia University (1975). Accomplished artist, with work represented in the permanent collections in the major art institutions around the world and on view in multiple public locations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); Storm King Art Center (NY); Art Institute of Chicago; National Museum in Kraków; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, UK.
• The article by Eulalia Domanowska, the curator of the first UVR’s retrospective in Poland,
• Documentary by Daniel Traub Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own (2019)
• Q. &. A. with UvR & Daniel Traub, moderated by Molly Donovan, Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art on May 31, 2020