The idea of beauty is ambiguous, a double-edged sword that can easily hurt you, causing pain and torture. My art is an example of this dichotomy: mesmerizing perfection attached to corrupted imperfection.Igor Mitoraj
I knew little of the artist Igor Mitoraj before seeing his work at Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. The bronze sculptures, massive body fragments of legendary Greek and Roman heroes; some shorn, some toppled, with pained eyes and downturned lips, reveal a staggering sense of tragedy and sadness. Set against the counterpoint of architect Santiago Calatrava’s contemporary campus of glass, steel, and water, it is nearly impossible not to feel awe, overwhelm, and perhaps, even grief.
As a young child, the artist survived the controversial bombing of Dresden, Germany by British and American aircraft. It remains one of the great single massacres in European history. Dresden, a city rich with culture and history, was called the Florence of the Elbe. Few considered it essential to German operations. That the war was nearly at its end was already common understanding. Three months after the aerial onslaught, Hitler surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces.
It is speculation to say that Mitoraj’s work was informed by the trauma and aftermath of the war. I can find only scarce information about his childhood and teen years. It is, however, generally known that post-war Germany was hobbled by epic hunger, disease, and displacement.
After studying in Poland and France, Mitoraj spent a majority of his life in western Europe and Mexico. At the advice of a friend he built a studio for himself in Pietrasanta, Italy, center of bronze foundries and marble masons, the two major material sources for his sculpture. There is now a museum in Pietrasanta dedicated to his work.
When the artist died in 2014 at the age of 70, Britain’s, The Guardian, called him a sculptor for whom fragmented bodies expressed the depths of human suffering. And the art publication, Artlyst, wrote that Mitoraj’s sculptures had become metaphors for the mortality of the human condition.
On a separate note, Mitoraj was not the only 20th century icon to survive the Dresden incursion. As a prisoner of war, Kurt Vonnegut, was held captive in Dresden, hidden in a cellar deep beneath the city’s stockyards. Upon his reimmersion, Vonnegut would discover that Dresden was no longer. The devastating impact of his war experience would become the central theme of his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five.
The work of Mitoraj can be seen in large museums across Europe, as well as in culturally relevant locations, and exhibitions around the world.
(Photos by Howard Fishman)