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Home arrow Installations arrow Villa dei Misteri
1979-1984 Print


I often have the same dream of the Mediterrenean Villa dei Misteri whose owners ask me to depict their daily routine in the style of a Pompeian fresco. When my mother returned from a trip to Italy in 1956, she showed me postcards of people acting as if in theatrical plays and children with their pets. That moment Villa dei Misteri entered my imagination.

1-5 Villa dei Misteri, Art in General, New York, 1984 | 6-11 New York Studio, 1982

My first New York installation at Art in General in 1984 was titled Villa dei Misteri. In the catalogue Edmund White wrote: “A bare foot, exposed on a swelling bulge, suddenly bulks large; in a dark fold, a woman secretly begins a neat incision into her own lean stomach. In another piece, figures drawn in red are hung like skinned martyrs along the wall. Within a day an entire room can be filled with these harrowing figures. In seconds they can be whisked away, evacuated. Portable gods. Lares and Penates. Icons. Or one thinks of Titian’s painting, The Flaying of Marsyas, the gruesome account of the satyr who challenged Apollo to a music contest, lost and was skinned alive by the vengeful god. The curious mixture of lyrical details (the god’s intense application to his job, the ecstatic expression of an instrumentalist striking up his violin) and the brutal facts (the bleeding body, the bucket of blood, the thirsty dog lapping up the blood) remind me of the mood of Kuryluk’s work, at once poetic and horrifying.”

1-2 Portraits of Peter (1978) | 3 Shroud (1981) | 4 Self-portrait (1979), Collection: Eva Pape, New York | 5 Twins (1979)

Elzbieta Grabska, analyzing my still lifes in her essay Membrane of Memory (1980), wrote: “Suspension between the particular practice of real life and a general meditation on human fate characterizes all of the artist’s compositions and portraits. This ambiguity is also present in her representations of objects, ordinary things, such as those we would use every day on a tablecloth. But when a real tablecloth becomes a background for still lifes they begin to mystify us by turning into paraphrases of objects. The artist instructs us about the tablecloth’s significance as companion to our brief, unceremonious meals, such as those one has when alone or while traveling.”

1-2 Cloths & Tablecloth (1979) | 3 Figure With String & Glass (1981) | 4-5 Napkin with keys (1982)

Villa dei Misteri was videotaped by Media School students. At the end, holding a small red suitcase, I disappear around a corner of Tribecca. The cardboard suitcase, brought by my father from Moscow, was called “little proletarian” by my brother. My mother insisted it was Pompeii red and named the suitcase “a little Pompeian.” For over 35 years this “petite Pompeian proletarian” has been part of my much travelled life.

Tablecloth with Osip was inspired by the last four lines of Osip Mandelstam's poem about Venice in Tristia:

The evening star flares black in the mirror.
Everything passes. Truth is dark.
Man is born. Pearl dies.
Susanna waits for the elders.
Translated by Ewa Kuryluk

1 Tablecloth with Osip (1982), Bois de Vincennes, 1998 | 2 Letter With Shell (1989-1998) | 3 Two Shells (1983)
4 Leszek’s Portraits in Shells (1982) | 5-6 Cloth with Shells (1983) | 7 Napkin (1982) | 8 Apple On Napkin (1980), Collection A. Bikont, Warsaw | 9-11 Three Napkins (1980)

Small pieces on round napkins were always the least expensive and the first sold from each exhibition. They and similar minor work, mostly made on lazy Sunday afternoons, were neither photographed or signed, but their authenticity can be checked – almost all of them were executed in Carmine Red by Magic Marker.

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