Stedelijk Museum

Ulay was here

21 Nov 2020 - 18 Apr 2021

ULAY WAS HERE, installation view at at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2020, photo: Peter Tijhuis
ULAY WAS HERE, installation view at at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2020, photo: Peter Tijhuis
ULAY WAS HERE, installation view at at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2020, photo: Peter Tijhuis
Ulay/Marina Abramović, Breathing In/Breathing Out, 1977, performance, 19 minuten, Studenski Kulturni Center Belgrado. Courtesy ULAY Foundation and Marina Abramović Archives.
Ulay / Marina Abramović, Relation in Time, 1977, Performance, 16h without public; last hour of the performance in the presence of the public, Studio G7, Bologna, IT. Courtesy ULAY Foundation and Marina Abramović Archives.
Ulay/Marina Abramović, Breathing In/Breathing Out, 1977, performance, 19 minuten, Studenski Kulturni Center Belgrado. Courtesy ULAY Foundation and Marina Abramović Archives.
ULAY WAS HERE, installation view at at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2020, photo: Peter Tijhuis
Ulay / Marina Abramović, Imponderabilia, 1997. Courtesy ULAY Foundation and Marina Abramović Archives.
Ulay / Marina Abramović, Renais Sense Aphorism, 1972, Auto-Polaroids, type 107, montage text, 51 x 63 cm framed, 25 x 37 cm work itself. Courtesy ULAY Foundation and Marina Abramović Archives.
ULAY WAS HERE, installation view at at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2020, photo: Peter Tijhuis
ULAY WAS HERE

Largest-ever retrospective and first international posthumous exhibition of Ulay (1943-2020), one of the pioneers of Polaroid photography and performance and body art: experimental, uncompromising, and committed to social issues. The exhibition includes many never before seen works.

With ULAY WAS HERE, the Stedelijk Museum presents the largest-ever retrospective of the groundbreaking oeuvre of Frank Uwe Laysiepen (1943–2020), known as Ulay. While the works that Ulay made with Marina Abramović are iconic, ULAY WAS HERE shows that he had an impressive solo oeuvre, both before and after their twelve-year collaboration. ULAY WAS HERE emphasizes that Ulay was one of the pioneers of Polaroid photography and performance and body art: experimental, uncompromising, and committed to social issues. Ulay had already begun working with the curators on this major survey before he passed away in March 2020.

Comprising approximately 200 works, some never before exhibited, ULAY WAS HERE examines entire oeuvre by pivoting around four key themes that amplify the contemporary relevance of his work: his focus on performance and the performative aspects of photography; his research into (gender) identity and his body as a medium; his engagement with social and political issues; and his relationship with Amsterdam, the city where he lived and worked for four decades. The exhibition includes photographs, Polaroids (both black and white and color, from small to life-size), Polagrams, sculptures, projections (video and photographic recordings of performances, films), and documentary material.

Ulay’s complex artistic expression is rooted in photography. From its outset, his artistic career was a thematic search for understanding the notions of identity and the body, mainly through series of aphorisms, visual poetry, Polaroids, and intimate performances. Taking hundreds of self-portraits, Ulay explored and modified his body, writing on his skin and adorning, piercing, or cutting it. He developed an approach that was novel in both method and subject matter, using the camera as a tool to investigate his identity while exploring socially constructed issues of gender. In the Polaroid series S'he, for instance, he presented himself as half man, half woman. Radically merging his life and art, Ulay undertook a life-long exploration of his own identity, searching for what it means to be the “other,” be it another gender or a minority of some kind.
 

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