Piotr Uklański , whose work opens at the Dallas Contemporary this Sunday and who will open two shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this March, was in the process of moving when we met at his studio in Greenpoint yesterday, perhaps to a location that might be easier for visiting journalists to find. (I had to be directed via telephone by a studio manager to Uklański’s magenta Dodge Charger, parked outside the artist’s warehouse space.)
Plenty of work remained at the space however, and Talking Heads was on in the background. Uklański, who has long blonde hair and wears a rock star’s bracelets and necklace, looked a little like an unconventional T.V. detective as he settled into a chair near a wall reminiscent of an evidence collection. On it hung various plastic-bagged printouts of “blood” paintings with sticky notes indicating the titles (Tears of Blood, 2011, More + More Blood, 2012, Not Enough Blood, 2013).
“I’m trying to look for these unique angles,” Uklański explained. “I’m sick of skulls that talk about death, and Karma Sutra woodcuts representing sex.”
The Dallas Contemporary show focuses only on his blood and ink paintings, a series he’s been making for seven years, though most of which have never before been seen. The Contemporary gave him leeway in what he wanted to do for the show, and he’d settled on blood as a reaction to post-war works by Rothko and Gutai he’d noticed in the collections around Dallas, which he said tried to sublimate the violence of World War II.
He wanted to re-introduce some of the violence to the landscape, have it play with Marfa, which, he said, was not so far away. He’d considered some American flag and Nazi imagery (his frieze, The Nazis, 1998, is a collection of headshot-esque photos of famous actors portraying German soldiers in film), but felt his shows are often critiqued for being “over-saturated.”
So he settled on the comparatively minimal, spattery blood works, whose monotony and “iconography” he’d tried to combat through the exhibition’s layout. “This is me trying to be an adult, for once,” he said.
His two shows at the Met, which run concurrent March 16, 2015, through August 16, 2015, will focus on photography. The first will be a show of his own work curated by Douglas Eklund and another that Uklański himself will curate from the Met’s own photo collection. The show he’s curating will focus on abstract versions of sexuality, he explained as he went to a laptop and clicked through folders labelled MAN RAY, BELLMER, GIBSON, OUTERBRIDGE. He stopped on a fairly provocative, but most interesting on a formal level, self-portrait by Walter Chappell. He’s seated in it, and shot nude from the neck down, holding a naked baby uncomfortably close to his angled erection.
“I organized it that if they had a photo in the collection they had to show it,” Uklański said. “But they didn’t want to show this one.”
For now, though, Uklański is focused on his show in Dallas. Asked what ideas he’d like to keep in the heads of visitors to the Dallas Contemporary he thought for a minute and concluded: “That we all make the flowers grow.”