Jimmie Durham was an American-born sculptor and essayist who worked across sculpture, performance, and installation.Read More
Born in Houston, Durham spent his childhood in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. He engaged with political activism from early on, becoming active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and working with poet and cultural activist Vivian Allan in theatre.
In 1965, Durham took a job as a mechanic at the University of Texas, where he befriended a student from Switzerland. The friendship led him to travel to Geneva and ultimately enrol at the city's L'École des Beaux-Arts in 1969.
Durham increasingly grew dissatisfied with the commercialisation of art in New York, as well as the insistent perception of his work as being 'Native American', leaving for Mexico in 1987 then for Europe in 1994. In Europe, the artist interrogated the history of western art at large, creating works that subvert the practices of well-known modernists and contemporary artists. Anti-Brancusi (2005), for example, mocks the work of modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi through a stack of cardboard boxes—including one for a urinal—on top of which sits a rock in an elongated shape.
Durham continued to employ animal skulls, contrasting their organic origins with artificial objects. In Eurasian Lynx, a lynx skull is attached to a web-like structure of wire, metal, and Murano glass, while a European stag skull obtains a surrogate body of steel pipes in Red Deer (both 2017). Durham's skull sculptures were included in the 58th Venice Biennale, where he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Durham was also a prolific essayist and poet, writing for art magazines and journals such as Artform, Art Journal, and Third Text. He also published Columbus Day (1985), a book of poetry, and the anthology A Certain Lack of Coherence: Writings on Art and Cultural Politics (1993).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021