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(1972 – 2021), USA

Kaari Upson Biography

Kaari Upson was an American contemporary artist who employed ordinary objects to interrogate the complexities of Americana, identity, family, and trauma. While most known for her multimedia 'The Larry Project' (2005–2012) and silicone mattresses, Upson also created two-dimensional and video works.

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With a background in painting, Kaari Upson received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2007. She lived and worked in Los Angeles.

'The Larry Project' (2005–2012)

Kaari Upson began to gain critical recognition with The Larry Project, which emerged from her investigation of the abandoned property next door to her parent's house. Upson first entered the house in 2005, where she discovered an abundance of mattresses and miscellaneous objects comprising photographs, letters, and journal entries. For the following seven years, the artist created a suite of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and videos that attempt to map the life of 'Larry', a name she gave to the neighbour.

Central to The Larry Project was Larry's obsession with Playboy and the hypermasculine personality of its founder Hugh Hefner. Upson constructed a life-size Larry mannequin to serve as stand-ins in her works, and cast herself in archetypal feminine roles interacting with the doll. In As Long As It Takes – Part I: The Head (2007), the first video in the project, Upson plays a nurse who in one scene strangles Larry with half of her face hidden behind a gingham face mask.

The Larry Project expanded to works such as The Grotto (2008–2009), a large-scale fibreglass installation that references the famed grotto at the Playboy Mansion. Upson projected videos through the gaps in the grotto that showed images of the artist wearing silicone breasts and genitalia over her naked body.

Family and Trauma

In the 2010s, Kaari Upson also began to explore familial trauma, starting from her own difficult relationship with her mother. 'MMDP (My Mother Drinks Pepsi)' series (2014–2017), for example, configures dull metal casts of Pepsi cans into a crude staircase (MMDP (Pupils)) or a narrow frame (MMDP III (Vertical Slit)) (both 2016) in a reference to her mother's habit of drinking Pepsi in the afternoons.

There is No Such Thing As An Outside (2017–2019), presented at the 58th Venice Biennale, is a large-scale installation based on the dollhouses that Upson and her friend used to own as children. Also included in the work were cast cauldrons, based on those belonging to her mother, and videos of Upson playing archetypal women while wearing uncanny, doll-like makeup.

Silicone Furniture

Kaari Upson's earlier engagement with mattresses in The Larry Project led her to create a body of work with silicone furniture to create bent, warped, or flaccid forms that are oddly sexualised.

For her presentation in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the artist transformed a sectional sofa she had found in Las Vegas into 'an endless couch' that she envisioned would seep into the in-between spaces of domestic architecture.


Kaari Upson has exhibited widely, holding solo exhibitions at Massimo De Carlo, London (2018); New Museum, New York (Good Thing You Are Not Alone) (2017); Sprüth Magers, Berlin (MMDP) (2016); Ramiken Crucible, New York (2014); Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles (2011); and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (Hammer Projects: Kaari Upson) (2007), among others.

The year 2019 was particularly prolific for the artist, who held the solo exhibitions DOOR, OPEN, SHUT at Kunstverein Hannover, Germany, and Go Back the Way You Came at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. She also participated in May You Live In Interesting Times, the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.

Upson also showed her works in two biennials in 2017: the 15th Istanbul Biennial and the Whitney Biennial.

Selected group exhibitions include Correspondence, White Cube, Aspen (2021); Zombies: Pay Attention! Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2018); The Artist is Present, Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2018); No Man's Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2016); Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles (2016); The Los Angeles Project, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2014).

Kaari Upson Death

Kaari Upson died from metastatic breast cancer on 18 August, 2021. Her work is represented by White Cube and Sprüth Magers.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021

Kaari Upson Featured Artworks

A Place for a Snake by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork moving image
Kaari UpsonA Place for a Snake, 2019HD film, colour, sound, 7 min 01 sec
Sprüth Magers Enquire
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork works on paper
Kaari UpsonPARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–2018362 x 184.2 cm Sprüth Magers Enquire
Art Baby Bottle (5 gal) by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork sculpture
Kaari UpsonArt Baby Bottle (5 gal), 2015Urethane, acrylic pigment, spray paint, aluminium
80 x 26.7 x 35.6 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork sculpture
Kaari UpsonMy Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015Aluminium, stainless steel, powder-coated steel
130 x 164 x 13 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
MMDP III (Vertical Slit) by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork sculpture
Kaari UpsonMMDP III (Vertical Slit), 2016Aluminium, stainless steel
239 x 61 x 48.5 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Recluse Brown by Kaari Upson contemporary artwork installation
Kaari UpsonRecluse Brown, 2015/20164 channel video installation, sound, 32:19 min
Sprüth Magers Enquire

Kaari Upson Recent Exhibitions

Kaari Upson Represented By

Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles
White Cube contemporary art gallery in Mason's Yard, London, United Kingdom White Cube Aspen, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris

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