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b. 1968, Warsaw, Poland
Piotr Uklański was born in 1968 in Warsaw, Poland. He received his BFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and an MFA from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York in 1995. Since the mid-1990s, through his diverse body of photography, installation, painting, sculpture, and film, Uklański has toyed with viewers' expectations, embracing spectacle and cliché and at times playfully reenvisioning the tropes of modernist art. Untitled (Dance Floor) (1996), one of Uklański's best known works, revamps the austere Minimalist grid as a sound-activated, brightly colored floor, a site for communal enjoyment and release. Since 1996 Uklański has photographed such omnipresent saccharine subjects as sunsets, wildlife, and flora for his ongoing series Joy of Photography. The Nazis (1998), a collection of film stills of actors portraying Nazis, solicited heated reactions when it was originally exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery in London. For the opening of Manifesta 2, Uklański's performance Untitled (The Full Burn) (1998) comprised a hired stuntman who was set on fire, an action that referenced both Hollywood spectacle and the actual self-immolations of protesters. In the photograph Untitled (Skull) (2000), Uklański himself appears entwined among naked female bodies to form a skull, offering a playful riff on a similar photograph by Salvador Dalí from 1944. Untitled (Wet Floor) (2000) comprises a puddle on the gallery floor.
In 2000 Uklański began to create collages of torn paper and works fashioned entirely from pencil or crayon shavings arranged beneath a Plexiglas frame. In 2003 Uklański published a three-page project entitled Untitled (Ginger Ass) in an issue of Artforum, two pages bore an image of a naked derriere and the third explaining that it belongs to the artist's girlfriend, Alison Gingeras. Also in 2003 Uklański inserted himself into a lineage of Polish innovators by creating Untitled (Boltanski, Polanski, Uklański), which he spray painted on a wall at London's Frieze Art Fair. By 2004 Uklański had begun creating mosaics out of crockery. In the artist's feature film, Summer Love: The First Polish Western (2006), a melodrama of nameless characters unfolds as a metaphor for the turbulent past of the artist's native country. Further commentary on Poland's history presides in Uklański's recent sculptural works, including a 2005 and 2008 Styrofoam eagle (the country's emblem); a clenchéd fist of resilience, made in 2007; a miniature town of Eastern European-styled architectural models, created in 2008; and aerial photographs, made in 2008, of people spelling “Solidarity” in Polish and then dispersing.
Solo exhibitions of Uklański's work have been organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2000), Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich (2001), Kunsthalle Basel (2004), Museé d'art moderne et contemporain in Strasbourg (2007), and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2007). His work has also been included in major group exhibitions such as Manifesta 2 (1998), Venice Bienniale (2003), São Paulo Bienal (2004), Lyon Biennale (2005), Shapes of Space at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2007), and Berlin Biennale (2008). Uklański lives and works in New York and Warsaw.