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Natalia LL, Velvet Terror I, 1970.
Natalia LL, Velvet Terror I, 1970.

Natalia LL (1937–2022)

Polish Conceptual artist Natalia LL, whose pathbreaking works of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s critiqued consumerism, advertising, and the subjugating representation of women in pornography, died August 12 at the age of eighty-five, according to her Instagram account. “Blending irony with meditation, she questioned not only the intrinsic value of female sensuality and beauty, but also the perception that art created by women artists is lyrical or nonconfrontational,” wrote Marek Bartelek in a 1994 issue of Artforum. Often brash and provocative, Natalia LL’s art was on numerous occasions subject to censorship, whether owing to social mores of the time, as earlier in her career, or to a repressive government, as seen more recently. The 2019 removal of a Natalia LL work from Warsaw’s National Museum sparked protests nationwide and drew global attention to Poland’s increasingly censorious government.

Natalia LL was born Natalia Lach in Żywiec, Poland, in 1937 and grew up in the industrial southern city of Bielsko-Biała. After earning her Msc. (the equivalent of an MS) from the State College of Fine Arts (now the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts) in Wrocław in 1963, she earned a diploma from the Association of Polish Art Photographers. In 1970, with Zbigniew Dłubak and Andrzej Lachowicz, she founded the collective PERMAFO, which the trio ran with a gallery of the same name through 1981 and which was seen as a lodestar of the Polish avant-garde. (She would marry Lachowicz in 1971, assuming the surname Lach-Lachowicz, which she soon abbreviated to LL.) By 1975, she had become involved with the international feminist movement and was making some of her best-known and most controversial works, among them the notorious series “Consumer Art,” 1972–75, which portrays the artist and her peers suggestively consuming—and in some cases spitting out or drooling—foods such as bananas, sausages, melons, and ice cream.

In the late ’70s, following a serious illness, the artist turned her focus from consumerism and pornography to mythological subjects. “While Natalia LL was recognized internationally as an uncompromising feminist from the Eastern bloc who introduced the sensual imagery into performance art, she should be reclaimed first and foremost as a genre-bending Conceptual artist who moved beyond the analytical and essentialist paradigm toward the realm of dreams, emotions and desires,” said Natalia Sielewicz, a curator and art historian at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, on learning of the artist’s death. “For example, her video performances Artificial Reality [1976], Pyramid [1979], and Points of Support [1980] synthesized Conceptual art with cosmist and shamanist practices. Her many attempts to visualize the intimate and the unconscious, which she understood as operations on signs and meanings, were the result of rational and objectified actions. Natalia LL subjected them to ‘existential verifications,’ thus creating art that can perform cognitive functions and is rooted in deeply intimate experiences of life.”

From 2004 to 2013, Natalia LL served as senior lecturer at the University of Fine Arts in Poznań. She was awarded the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis in 2007, and in 2013 she received the Katarzyna Kobro Award, a prize given by artists to artists. Her work is held in the collections of the International Center of Photography, New York; the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; the Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf; and the National Museums in Gdańsk-Oliwa, Poznan, Warsaw, and Wrocław, among other institutions around the world.