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Gallery: Major retrospective of Estonian feminist artist Anu Põder in Switzerland

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The retrospective exhibition of Anu Põder (1947-2013), curated by Cecilia Alemani, was opened at the Muzeum Susch in Switzerland. The main partner of the exhibition is the Art Museum of Estonia.

Muzeum Susch focuses on collecting and promoting the work of female modern and contemporary artists. The exhibition, named after Põder's sculpture "Space for My Body" (1995, pictured above), is the first major retrospective of Anu Põder's work outside Estonia.

The exhibition features over 40 works created between 1978 and 2012, mostly from the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia, the Tartu Art Museum and the artist's estate.

"Põder is one of the most remarkable Estonian artists of the last five decades. Since the 1970s, her work has stood out for its unique execution, original ideas and deeply personal content. However, as it did not fit in well with the mainstream of the Estonian art scene at the time, it remained largely neglected for years," Cecilia Alemani, the exhibition's curator, who also picked Põder's works for the 59th Venice Biennale main exhibition, said.

"Anu Põder: Space for My Body," curated by Cecilia Alemani. Switzerland. Source: Frederico Sette

"Põder's work was primarily concerned with the human body: her highly evocative sculptures emphasize the fragility and transience of life. She used unusual materials, such as textiles, wax, plaster, soap, plastic and wood to create astonishingly delicate and fragile assemblages," she said.

Alemani highlighted Põder's revolutionary and deeply personal style focusing of female subjectivity, which puts her in line with other prominent international artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta and Alina Szapocznikow.

Unlike her peers in Estonia, who worked with traditional materials such as bronze and granite, Põder, working on the cusp of two eras – the Soviet occupation of Estonia and the regained independence in 1991 – built her own unique, highly vulnerable visual vocabulary out of everyday, non-precious materials and objects, Alemani explained.

"Põder embraced the uncertainty of identity of the Estonian people, working as one of the very few women artists in a decidedly male context," she said.

Alemani, a New York-based Italian curator, is one of the most influential curators today. In 2022, she curated "The Milk of Dreams," the 59th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. In 2023, she organized a major retrospective of Tetsuya Ishida at Gagosian, New York and curated "Making Their Mark," a large-scale exhibition showcasing the works of more than 70 of the most significant women artists from the last eight decades.

Exhibition "Anu Põder: Space for My Body" (2024), curated by Cecilia Alemani. Switzerland. Source: Courtesy of Muzeum Susch Art Stations Foundation/Photo: Federico Sette

Anu Põder (1947‒2013) was a sculptor and installation artist who experimented with new abstract forms and a wide range of materials, from plaster and wood to charcoal and textiles, to light, smells and tastes. Põder's early works explore the transition from young woman to mother and middle-aged woman in the late Soviet era, while her later works comment on processes in Estonian society as it regained its independence.

In 2017, the Kumu Art Museum organized a major retrospective of Põder's work, "Be Fragile! Be Brave!," curated by Rebeka Põldsam. The exhibition, with the accompanying catalogue, became a catalyst for the wider discovery and international success of Põder's art, most recently in a major retrospective exhibition of Louise Bourgeois' "art in conversation" in the National Museum, Oslo in summer 2023. There Estonia was represented by Anu Põder, whose works were exhibited alongside such world-famous women artists as Diane Arbus, Phyllida Barlow, Lynda Benglis, Helen Chadwick, Nan Goldin, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, Ana Mendieta, Dora Maar and Alina Szapocznikow.

In 2021, a version of Põder's installation "Tongues" (1998) was acquired by the Tate in London.

"Anu Põder: Space for My Body" is open at Muzeum Susch until June 30, 2024.

Muzeum Susch opened in 2019 in the Swiss Alps near Davos. It was founded by Grażyna Kulczyk and housed in the grounds of a former monastery dating back to the 12th century.

Cicilia Alemani at the Art Museum of Estonia with Anu Põdra's works.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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