b. 1962, USA

Michelle Grabner Biography

Michelle Grabner is an artist, writer, curator, and lecturer. She is known for her patterned abstract paintings, prints, and drawings, as well as her promotion of feminist and midwestern issues.

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Home Studio

Grabner deliberately works from her home-based studio in Oak Park, Chicago, in order to celebrate her family life with husband, Brad Killam, and three children.

Grabner and Killam are the co-founders of two independent project spaces and artist residencies: The Suburban, established in 1999 and initially located in the backyard of Grabner and Killam's Oak Park home, and The Poor Farm, established in 2009 and located in rural northeast Wisconsin.


For her tertiary education, Grabner went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and graduated with a BFA in Painting and Drawing in 1984, then a MA in Art History in 1987, and then a MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 1990. Her MA thesis and curated exhibition was entitled Postmodernism: A Spectacle of Reflexivity, where she included artists such as Richard Prince, Kay Rosen, and Sherrie Levine.

Art Practice

Grabner's art practice is immensely varied, but usually involves working with textiles, often using inventive 'translations' of clich├ęd images.

She is also known for painting that involves manual process, patterning, and obsessive repetition. Sometimes Grabner analyses how certain textiles such as hessian or lightweight thermal blankets are woven. After removing a particular warp or weft thread, she paints the surface with white gesso and fills in the resulting multiple negative gaps. This creates a highly delicate, strangely patterned, optically subtle surface. She sees pattern and the grid as metaphors for the organisational structures of daily life: particularly, domestic tasks at home for women in family environs.

In her two-dimensional work Grabner is conspicuously inventive. She has made intricately dotted tondos in gesso and flashe, viscous hand-painted red and white gingham grids, fabric ink-transfer paintings exploiting wet gesso, loosely woven household drapes used as a stencil to spray through, and crocheted blankets and paper weavings.

Grabner is also a skilled producer of sculpture, sometimes creating wooden relief plaques that incorporate inset recycled jam jar lids bearing printed gingham patterns. Plus she regularly works with foundries to cast folded textiles as freestanding objects of brass or bronze. In 2015, in response to a review from Ken Johnson in The New York Times where she was described as a 'soccer mom,' she made a limited-edition, fully functional, gingham soccer ball.

Curatorial Reputation

It was through her writing and co-founding of the highly regarded residencies that saw Grabner co-curate the Whitney Biennial in 2014. She then curated the 2016 Portland Biennial, and acted as the Artistic Director for FRONT International, the 2018 Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. She is Crown Family Professor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and has held teaching positions at Bard College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Yale Norfolk, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

In 2021 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and named co-curator of 2021 Edition of Sculpture Milwaukee.

As a critic she regularly contributes articles to Frieze, Artforum, Modern Painters, Art Agenda, and X-tra. She is also the co-editor of the anthology, The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, published by the University of Chicago Press.


Michelle Grabner's solo exhibitions include Michelle Grabner, James Cohan, New York (2021); I Work from Home, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland (2013); and Michelle Grabner: the INOVA survey, Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2012).

Grabner's group exhibitions include In this House, Elmhurst Art Museum, Illinois (2018); It Was Never Linear: Recent Paintings, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska (2016); The Works: Artists in and from Chicago, Fondation CAB, Belgium (2015); and Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today, Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2015).

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

Michelle Grabner
in Ocula Magazine

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