[diameter]7,5 x 159 x 16,5 - 195 x 47 x 90 - [diameter]6 x 18 cm is a set of three objects: a wooden sculpture resembling a table, and two steel pipes, one long and one short. The table-like object is mostly made from softwood and coated with a mixture of chalk and glue. Its top layer consists of two used floorboards, placed side by side and with a thin groove running between them that holds a line of salt. Directly beneath this is a softwood shelf containing a long rectangle of polyester foam that is around 2 cm thick and is backed by galvanised steel. The foam was originally soaked in salty water, and although it is displayed dry, some of the crystallised salt is visible on its surface. The longer pipe has a dark, dull surface and is filled to its brim with salt and fixed to the floor and wall of the gallery so that it stands vertically. The smaller pipe, which is screwed into the floor a short distance away from the larger one, has a shiny surface and contains a smaller cylinder, and the gap in between these larger and smaller tubes is filled with salt. The title seems to refer to the objects’ dimensions, but these are not entirely accurate: the true dimensions are 900 x 1945 x 470 mm for the table sculpture, 1610 x 75 x 180 mm for the longer pipe and 185 x 60 x 60 mm for the shorter pipe.
This work was made by the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka in 1991. It was first exhibited that same year in a solo show at Galeria Foksal in Warsaw, with the three elements displayed together but listed as separate works. Balka originally used thinner pipes for the installation, replacing them with thicker ones after the exhibition. It is not clear when the objects were amalgamated into a single work or whether the artist made the decision to do so, and Balka has not stated whether the three parts should be arranged in any particular manner.
This work is one of many produced by Balka in the early 1990s that use dimensions in their title, one of the earliest examples being 238 x 30 x 15 1990 (Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City). The measurements of these works almost always reference Balka’s height, which is 190 cm, or an approximation of it, as is the case with this work owned by Tate in which the table-like object is 194.5 cm long (see Maria Morzuch and Miroslaw Balka, ‘Interview’, in Muzeum w Lodzi 1931–1992: Collection-Documentation-Actualité, exhibition catalogue, Musée d’Art Contemporain, Lyon 1992, p.262). Furthermore, in 1999 Balka suggested that the small pipe in this work corresponds to ‘foot height’, the ‘bed-table’ equates to ‘loin level’ and the long pipe is at ‘mouth level’ (Miroslaw Balka, Tate Gallery Cataloguing Form, 12 November 1999, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Miroslaw Balka, A19309).
As well as this emphasis on bodily dimensions, salt has also featured frequently in Balka’s work since 1990 (see, for instance, 200 x 60 x 162 1990, Moderna Museet, Stockholm). In 1994 he stated that ‘The works presented in the Foksal Gallery [in 1991] relate directly to my body and to the trace it leaves. Salt appears in it in a non-metaphysical but concrete way, as dried sweat. By filling a steel pipe of my height with salt, I undertook an attempt to preserve a trace (sweat) that a particular man can leave’ (Jaromir Jedlinski and Miroslaw Balka, ‘Conversation’, in Van Abbemuseum 1994, p.65). Despite the artist’s reference to his sweat when discussing these works, it is not known whether the salt used was formed from perspiration.
In the mid- to late 1980s Balka produced several sculptures that represent parts of human or animal bodies (see, for example, Fire Place 1986, Tate T06960). However, he began to approach figuration differently in his works of the 1990s, evoking objects that are used by the body or the traces they leave behind rather than depicting them directly (see Jedlinski and Balka in Van Abbemuseum 1994, p.64). The critic Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith has presented this as a shift in Balka’s work from the ‘invocational presence’ of the body to its ‘evocative absence’ (Caolmhín Mac Giolla Léith, ‘The Light Gleams an Instant’, in Miroslaw Balka: Tristes Tropiques, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 2007, p.40). In line with this, such works could be seen to promote a feeling of distance from the figure, as is evoked in this installation through its austere appearance and its emphasis on apparently precise measurements. Furthermore, Balka stated in 1994 that the latter characteristics lend his sculptures ‘a certain anonymity’, potentially making their corporeal allusions ‘difficult to recognize’ (Jedlinski and Balka in Van Abbesmuseum 1994, p.64).
Miroslaw Balka, exhibition catalogue, De Appel, Amsterdam 1991.
Miroslaw Balka: April / My Body Cannot Do Everything I Ask For, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Foksal, Warsaw 1991, unpaginated, reproduced.
Miroslaw Balka, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1994, p.65.
Supported by Christie’s.