Los Angeles

Monika Sosnowska, Stairs, 2016, steel, paint, 3' 11 1/4“ x 5' 87⁄8” x 34' 93/8".

Monika Sosnowska, Stairs, 2016, steel, paint, 3' 11 1/4“ x 5' 87⁄8” x 34' 93/8".

Monika Sosnowska

Monika Sosnowska, Stairs, 2016, steel, paint, 3' 11 1/4“ x 5' 87⁄8” x 34' 93/8".

Monika Sosnowska’s crumpled, hulking sculptures often manifest a fossil-like quality. Resting solemnly in Hauser & Wirth’s cavernous space, a shiny black-steel carcass bisected the opening gallery, its studded spine rising and falling atop a tangle of twisted ribs. But the thirty-five-foot-long piece was in fact a twisted industrial staircase (correspondingly titled Stairs, 2016): Its front rested partially and helplessly on its stringer while its back balanced precariously on splayed treads. Installed nearby, Handrail, 2016, consisted of loop after torqued loop of a cochineal ribbon of PVC wound along the gallery’s north and east walls. Turning a corner, the graphic ribbon led to a back gallery where it straightened out onto a horizontal axis—revealing its titular self. 

As she has done throughout her career, Sosnowska crafted the six Brutalist sculptures featured at Hauser & Wirth as intentional riffs on prefabricated building systems. The works are animated by the force of architectonic scale and the once mighty, now extant utopic ideological aspirations embedded within the former socialist state enterprise of her native Poland. By bending, crunching, and distorting the standardized components of these inherited templates, she empties them of their operating intelligence—rendering them disarmingly impotent but nevertheless fraught with unresolved tension. Curated by Heather Pesanti, the exhibition was a pared-down presentation of Sosnowska’s recent solo show “Habitat,” which inaugurated the newly minted galleries of the Contemporary Austin. The baroque formality of the works on view in Los Angeles—their clean lines, exquisite attention to detail, and lack of patina—prevented the exhibition from slipping into didactic tedium or overwrought romanticization of Warsaw’s architectural legacy crumbling under the weight of its ideology.

Instead, the universality of Sosnowska’s spare, concrete-and-steel-dominated material vocabulary, and the ubiquity of this utilitarian posture in contemporary architecture, activates just as many menacing associations about present and future Los Angeles as it does about Warsaw’s past. In the farthest gallery, for example, a twenty-one-foot-tall knotted heap of steel by turns gave the impression of a marooned behemoth, a petrified Jurassic skeleton, and a defunct Spinner from Blade Runner. Titled simply Façade, 2016, the piece was constructed according to the customary dimensions of Soviet-era Warsaw storefront facades; the piece buckles and swerves, softens and stiffens, with each successive fold of black-painted steel. Amid this hollowed-out, knotted nest were the visible cutouts for door- and window frames. The convoluted armature simultaneously evokes the rigor mortis of Communist collapse and the polished exteriors of the luxury shops that line Third Street in the recently revitalized and rebranded “Arts District” that Hauser & Wirth calls home.  

Elsewhere in the gallery, Sosnowska explored the decorative limit of demolition with Untitled, 2015, a concrete plug from which variously sized strips of black-painted steel flare up and out in the manner of an erstwhile party popper, frozen midburst. This thirteen-foot-tall bouquet of I beams and rebar, which craned for support from nearby walls, was complemented by a neighboring piece, Frieze, 2015, composed of the same materials. Perhaps the least monumental object in the show, Frieze confronted the viewer from above with steel tubular guts spilling out crookedly from a flat, rectangular concrete slab. Like the windows in the mangled structure of Façade, the even spacing of the pipes becomes a remnant of a bygone and universal functionalism as well as a nod to that absence, even as the works took their place in the austere, blue-chip gallery space that represents the accelerating symbiosis between modern corporate architecture and the culture industry. 

Erin Kimmel