Olek (artist)

Agata Oleksiak (born 5 April 1978),[1] known as Olek, is a Polish artist who is based in New York City. Her works include sculptures, installations such as crocheted bicycles, inflatables, performance pieces, and fiber art. She has covered buildings, sculptures, people, and an apartment with crochet and has exhibited in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, France, Italy, Poland, and Costa Rica.

Agata Oleksiak

(1978-04-05) 5 April 1978 (age 42)[1]
NationalityPolish American
EducationAdam Mickiewicz University
Known forperformance, installation, sculpture, fibre art
Patron(s)National Endowment for the Arts,[3] Fund for Creative Communities[4]

Early life and careerEdit

Olek graduated with a degree in Cultural Studies from Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, in 2000.[5] She then attended LaGuardia College, where she won the National Arts Club's award for sculpture.[6] Her early work included sculptures, costumes, and inflatables.

Olek first used crocheting as part of her art in 2003 after moving to the United States. She "wowed critics" at the Williamsburg Arts and Historical Society Surrealist Fashion Show that year.[7] In 2004, Olek created "a large tentlike piece made of crocheted strips of cloth, hair, cassette tape and stuffed animals" work for a four-person show. The New York Times said this work gave the show at 5BE Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, "a tour-de-force center to work around."[8] Her crocheted sculpture Spill (2005), featured in the Washington Post, included 1,300 skinny white balloons cascading in an "intestinal shape".[9] She participated in The Waterways, a "socially conscious" art project on a vaporetto water bus during the 2005 Venice Biennale; her work, called Camouflage, "exploring the androgyny of fixed identity, sexuality, and culture".[10] In September and October of that year, Olek crocheted the windows of a burned-out, abandoned building near her artist residency in Utica, New York.[11][12] During this period, her costumes for theatre and dance performances drew critical praise,[13][14] although a dance performance relating to one of her sculptures was criticized.[15]


Olek's creative philosophy is that "Life and art are inseparable."[11] In 2009, she stated:

I think crochet, the way I create it, is a metaphor for the complexity and interconnectedness of our body and its systems and psychology. The connections are stronger as one fabric as opposed to separate strands, but, if you cut one, the whole thing will fall apart. Relationships are complex and greatly vary situation to situation. They are developmental journeys of growth, and transformation. Time passes, great distances are surpassed and the fabric which individuals are composed of compiles and unravels simultaneously.[16]

As an active supporter of women's rights, sexual equality, and freedom of expression, Olek has used the broad appeal of her work to display her solidarity with those stifled by oppressive laws worldwide. Through her body of work, Olek has always sought to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space.[17]

Selected worksEdit

Olek has exhibited in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Turkey,[18] France, Italy, Spain,[19] Finland,[20] Sweden,[21] Poland, and Costa Rica.[5] In 2009 and 2016, she was a resident artist at Brazil's Instituto Sacatar.[16][22]

Olek's crocheted full body clothing, dubbed "wearable sculptures",[23] has been used in various projects where Olek took her participants onto the New York City Subway.[24] Olek's DUMBO Arts Festival piece was "Painting to Shake Hands" on an "event score" in Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. Participants wore her sculptures and placed a hand through a stretched canvas to shake the hands of passers-by.[11] A second performance was dubbed "Crocheted Grapefruit".[4] Performance piece "Thank You for Your Visit, Have a Nice Day", performed on Manhattan's 14th Street during the 2009 event, Art in Odd Places:SIGN, was inspired "by a uniformed attendant holding a "Hold the Handrail" sign in a Taipei metro station".[25] Performers held placards based on signs noticed by Olek that were "emphatic, ironic or amused dialogue with their location."[23]

Her first solo exhibition, "Knitting is for Pus****",[26] was held at Christopher Henry Gallery. In 2010 she exhibited a false apartment in which the contents, including the residents, were covered in crocheting.[27] The installation took years to prepare using yarn skeins.[28] It was originally scheduled to run from 9 September to 17 October 2010,[29] but closed in May 2011 after a series of extensions. During that period, the gallery exhibited her work at the SCOPE Art Show in Miami.[30] In this and other works, members of the public or the media were included,[31] crocheted directly into suits without traditional fasteners.[24][32] According to the gallery, after the exhibition closed the work was priced at $90,000.[28]

In late December 2010, Olek installed a crocheted suit over "Charging Bull" (1989), a statue on Wall Street, as a tribute to Arturo Di Modica, who installed the sculpture without permission. A park caretaker tore the suit from the statue two hours later.[33][34] Olek was the 2010-2011 Workspace artist-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council,[11] during which she created and performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[35] In May 2011, she won the "Sculpture In Situ" category at the second Urban Arts Awards (Artaq).[36]

Olek in her installation Homage to Keith Haring, 2011

In August 2011, Olek held a solo exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery.[37] She collaborated with director Gina Vecchione and producer Michelle Price to create a short silent film called YARNANA, through Kickstarter-based fundraising. "Inspired by the silent film genre, it relies solely on powerful music, sound design and physical expression. The characters speak through modern dance, physical comedy, capoeira, martial arts, poi, belly dancing, breakdance, acrobatics, gymnastics and the instincts of soul searchers." The project's funding was ultimately canceled on Kickstarter,[38][39] but the film was still created, and it won a film festival award.[40][41] Her first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, called "I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone", was influenced by her experiences while she lived there.[42]

Olek changed materials for a joint exhibition with David E. Peterson in New York City;[43] she used thousands of semi-inflated balloons,[44] crocheted like yarn to create a cave-like structure inside the gallery. The artist noted her love of the ephemeral nature of the medium; the balloons often popped during the creation of the installation, and required immediate repair to prevent it unraveling entirely.[45] The installation will gradually wither.[46] She said that balloons represent "the happiest moments in life — which are often just as impermanent".[45] Some visitors noted a pungent scent of latex.[44] Olek was inspired by her time as a traveling clown for Health Plus, when she would visit poor New York neighborhoods.[47] She had previously used balloons during her residency in Brazil.[47]

She was included in the Renwick Gallery's 2012–2013 40 under 40: Craft Futures.[2][48][49]

In 2014, as one of a number of underwater crocheted works produced in collaboration with PangeaSeed to draw attention to threats to the oceanic ecosystem, Olek covered a bomb-shaped sculpture at the Cancún Underwater Museum in Mexico with a crocheted "cosy"; the museum complained that this had harmed aquatic life.[50] In 2015, as part of St+Art Delhi 2015, she covered a women's shelter in Delhi with crochet to raise awareness of its existence among those who need it.[51]

In April 2016, she draped the facade of Virginia MOCA with a giant crocheted New York Times front page, dated 2020 and featuring ecologically themed good news stories.[52] Also in 2016, she created an installation at Verket, a museum in Avesta, Sweden, and was aided by Syrian and Ukrainian women refugees; after hearing their stories, she was inspired to cover a house in Avesta and another in Kerava, Finland, entirely with pink crochet to illustrate the power of women.[53][54] While working in Avesta, the refugee women described their stories of how they'd lost everything during the war. This motivated Olek to create a short film, "In the Blink of an Eye," where she exploded a crocheted house inside the Verket Museum.[55] On 3 November 2016, a pink blanket crocheted by Olek and thirty-eight volunteers, featuring Hillary Clinton's face and the hashtag #ImWithHer in black and white, was nailed to a billboard in New Jersey.[56] In December 2016, Olek exhibited the piece entitled, "You Can't Fool All The People," at MANA Wynwood in Miami.[57]

2011 arrestEdit

On 6 October 2011, Olek and a man were involved in an incident in a bar in London. Charged with unlawful wounding, unlawful wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and two counts of possessing a bladed article in a public place,[58] she was tagged with an ankle monitor, was under house arrest for over a month,[58] but was allowed to attend a show in Poland.[47][59] In September 2012 at Southwark Crown Court, she was found not guilty of unlawful wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, but guilty of unlawful wounding;[47] the following November she was sentenced to home curfew. After serving her sentence, she installed a crochet piece with the message "kiss the future" on "5 block[s] of Hell in Vancouver" and then a 65-foot crochet banner with the same message in Polish in a prison in Katowice.[60]


  1. ^ Olek is sometimes listed as being from Silesia, Poland; Ruda Śląska is a city within the administrative division of Silesia.


  1. ^ a b "Olek-Info". Facebook. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b Wendy Goodman (May 2011). "I Yarn-Bombed This". New York Magazine. New York NY: New York Media Holdings. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  3. ^ Olek, Agata (15 October 2009). "Please, join me! and JUST BRING YOUR CLOTHES". OLEK. New York NY. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b Olek, Agata (17 May 2011). "Crocheted Grapefruit Performances June 19 (Sun), 20 (Mon), 21 (Tues)". OLEK. New York NY. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Olek Archived 12 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine", professional resume. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  6. ^ "28th Annual Student Show" (PDF). The National Arts Club Bulletin: 3. Spring 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  7. ^ Cukrov, Claudia (7 May 2009). "Crochet Work by Olek". pskf. New York NY. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  8. ^ Cotter, Holland (6 August 2004). "ART IN REVIEW; 'The Day After I Destroyed the Women I Wished I Had Not Destroyed Them'". The New York Times. New York NY. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  9. ^ Padget, Jonathan (10 February 2005). "Knit One, Swirls Too". Washington Post. Washington DC. p. C05. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  10. ^ "Waterways 2005 Hits the Venice Biennale". Varaart-issued press release. New York NY: PRWEB. 9 June 2005. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d Gagliano, Maria (5 January 2011). "Made in Brooklyn: Olek". Brooklyn Based. Brooklyn, New York City NY. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  12. ^ "Agata Olek Oleksiak". SculptureSpace. 2005. Archived from the original on 5 October 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  13. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (14 June 2007). "Sex-Positive Feminism and the Single Snail". The New York Times. New York NY. Retrieved 13 June 2011. In "Snail" Ms. Anthony slowly moved around the stage in a fantastical piece of looping, wearable sculpture of yarn, rope, twine and wire, created by Agata Oleksiak.
  14. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (9 December 2006). "The Performer Onstage and Her Image on Walls". The New York Times. New York NY. Retrieved 13 June 2011. Agata Oleksiak's costumes, bunched and lacy scraps of white and bright color, added to the fairy-tale look.
  15. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (21 November 2005). "Disrupting Surprises Pounce Amid Serenity". The New York Times. New York NY. Retrieved 13 June 2011. The solo was less interesting when she related to a sculpture by Agata Oleksiak - "unwrapped for the first time" on Saturday, the program promised breathlessly - that consisted of a small stepladder wrapped in white muslin and crammed with balls.
  16. ^ a b Lee, See-ming (16 October 2009). "Agata Olek / 13th Annual DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival NYC 2009: Part 8 of 10 / Art + Artists". SML Pro Blog. New York NY. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  17. ^ "Olek: White Mermaid". heliotrope foundation. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  18. ^ "Olek". Workspace: Current Session. Manhattan NY: Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. 2011. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Olek - Delimbo Gallery - Arte urbano & Graffiti". Delimbo Gallery - Arte urbano & Graffiti (in Spanish). Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  20. ^ Lott-Lavigna, Ruby. "Agata Oleksiak is helping refugees find their voice – using yarn". WIRED UK. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  21. ^ Writer, Priscilla Frank Arts; Post, The Huffington (6 September 2016). "Proof That Covering Houses In Pink Yarn Makes The World A Better Place". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  22. ^ "Fairy Tales Are Not Real". INPUT Journal. New York NY: INPUT Journal Foundation. 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  23. ^ a b "Art in Odd Places 2009". Time Out New York. New York NY: Time Out New York. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  24. ^ a b Romano, Jowy (20 October 2010). "The World of Olek". Subway Art Blog. New York NY. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  25. ^ Collet, Michele (2010). "The Incredible Crocheted World of Olek". Environmental Graffiti. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  26. ^ Note that this is indeed the official name, with asterisks. This represents "Knitting is for Pussies".
  27. ^ Caporosso, Michele Wad (13 January 2011). "Crochet art". Vogue Italy. Milano, Italy: Condè Nast S.p.A. Retrieved 6 June 2011.; "Crafting a crochet world - in pictures". The Observer. London. 22 May 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2011.; Parent, Marie-Joëlle (11 April 2011). "De l'art urbain au crochet". canoe divertissement (in French). Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  28. ^ a b LaBarre, Suzanne (16 May 2011). "An Entire Apartment Covered In Crochet, On Sale For $90,000". Fast Co. Design. New York NY: Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  29. ^ ""OLEK: Knitting is for Pus****" at Christopher Henry Gallery". SOHO Journal. Manhattan NY. 2010. Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  30. ^ "Olek - Knitting is for Pus**** Closing Party!". Artlog. Brooklyn NY. 2011. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  31. ^ Dicker, Geoffrey (4 February 2011). "Untitled segment". NBC News at 5. New York NY. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  32. ^ Olek, Christopher Henry (26 November 2010). Knitting is For Pus**** (streaming video, also as MP4) (documentary short). New York NY: Vimeo. Event occurs at 00:00:10. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  33. ^ "Olek crocheted the Wall Street Bull". Bowery Boogie. New York NY. 27 December 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  34. ^ Blanco, Octavio (28 December 2010). "Cozy Wall Street Bull sends warmest wishes". CNNMoney. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  35. ^ Ciari, Sabina. "Model/Performance Artist- Wearable Sculpture by Olek". Sabina Ciari portfolio. Behance. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  36. ^ "Nominated for the Artaq Awards 2011 and winners". 2nd Urban Arts Award. 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  37. ^ "Olek: The Bad Artists Imitate, The Great Artists Steal". Jonathan LeVine Gallery. New York NY. 12 July 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  38. ^ "YARNANA (Canceled)". Kickstarter. 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  39. ^ "Olek's Next Project is "YARNANA" Film". New York NY: Bowery Boogie. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  40. ^ "Nice Shoes Color Grades YARNANA". Below the Line. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  41. ^ "New York". New York. Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  42. ^ "OLEK London Solo Exhibition". Hooked. London UK. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  43. ^ "Exhibit: OLEK and David E. Peterson – 2 person show – "Synthethic Nature"". Art In New York City. New York NY. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  44. ^ a b "Olek's Crocheted Balloon Funhouse at the Krause Gallery". Bowery Boogie. New York NY. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  45. ^ a b Shapiro, Julie (16 March 2012). "Balloons Replace Yarn in Crochet Artist Olek's New Show". DNAinfo. New York NY. Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  46. ^ Tetzloff, Adam (17 March 2012). "Olek". Downtown at Dawn. New York NY. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  47. ^ a b c d Zuckerman, Esther (17 March 2012). "Olek Inflates Her Work At New Show". The Village Voice. New York NY. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  48. ^ O'Steene, Danielle (23 July 2012). "'40 under 40: Craft Futures' at the Renwick Gallery". The Washington Post.
  49. ^ "40 under 40: Craft Futures". Renwick Gallery. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  50. ^ Thomas, Emily (20 August 2014). "Artist Olek's Underwater Crochet 'Bomb' May Have Killed Marine Life". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  51. ^ Rojo, Jaime; Harrington, Steven (25 March 2015). "Gender, Caste, And Crochet: OLEK Transforms A Shelter In Delhi". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  52. ^ Rojo, Jaime; Harrington, Steven (25 May 2016). "Olek Crochets The New York Times: 'Good News' At Virginia MOCA". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  53. ^ Chua, Jasmin Malik (1 September 2016). "Olek Covers the Facade of Houses in Sweden, Finland With Pink Crochet". Ecouterre. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  54. ^ Bellucci, Tara (2 September 2016). "This House in Finland is Totally Covered in Pink Crochet". Apartment Therapy. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  55. ^ "In the Blink of an Eye". Vimeo. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  56. ^ Crocheting Hillary - The New Yorker
  57. ^ EvanPricco. "Juxtapoz Magazine - The Juxtapoz Clubhouse @ MANA Wynwood". Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  58. ^ a b "WHY do I need your help?". Olek's appeal. London UK. 8 December 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  59. ^ Gray, Rosie (14 December 2011). "Crochet Artist Olek Is in Legal Trouble in London". The Village Voice. New York NY. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  60. ^ "Street Artist Olek Goes To Jail in Poland". Brooklyn Street Art. 18 January 2014.

External linksEdit