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b. 1957, USA

Tony Oursler Biography

American artist Tony Oursler has been compared to a circus showman. It is not difficult to imagine Oursler as a ringleader of an orphic recital; known for his twisted and ethereal combinations of sculpture, film and technology, his practice has incorporated projections, smoke, puppets, video screens and automatons to examine themes such as UFOs, magic, séances, pseudoscience, camera obscura and mass media. In his Manhattan studio is a collection of over 15,000 objects, publications and ephemera related to the paranormal and uncanny—an accumulation that has fed his hallucinogenic practice. Over the past 40 years, Oursler has become recognised for his inventive works exploring the intersection of technology and the occult.

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Tony Oursler earned a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in the late 1970s, where John Baldessari and Laurie Anderson were teachers and his peers included artists Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Sue Williams and Stephen Prina. He returned to New York after graduating, and his first handmade videos incorporated intricate sets, soundtracks and DIY special effects—works for which he is now considered a pioneer of video art. Formative installations from the 1980s experimented with distorting video images with reflections in mirrors, water and glass in dark rooms. Tony Oursler's early popularity was in part due to the fact he was picked up by Electronic Arts Intermix, a non-profit resource for video and media art. In the late 1980s, Oursler began incorporating social critiques into his works, touching on political and cultural violence, mass media and alienation. In the 1990s, he started to project disembodied facial features onto bizarre surfaces including fabric and smoke. The works were accompanied by layered recordings of voices reciting poetic, irreverent and sometimes nonsensical phrases written by Oursler–his 'sound collage' technique developed into a mainstay of his practice. His works over the next two decades experimented with the possibilities of video sculpture and psychodramatic technological theatre, all the while pointing at the ephemerality of the virtual image.

Tony Oursler's artwork has been exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions around the world including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Liverpool, documenta 8 in Kassel and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 2016, Tony Oursler's Imponderable (2015–16) was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the feature-length film told an alternate history of technology by delving into the artist's own archive of objects related to the paranormal. Oursler called the work a '5-D' film as an array of sensory effects such as aromas, vibrations and a 19th-century phantasmagorical device made the experience dramatically immersive.

Harking back to the bodiless facial features of the 1990s, more recently Tony Oursler's art (as seen in his 2016 exhibition PriV%te at Lehmann Maupin) has stemmed from his interest in the pervasiveness of facial recognition technology. LCD screens or iPads are embedded within large, aluminium head-shaped structures and show ultra high-definition moving eyes and mouths accompanied by sound collages, making the actors within seem trapped between technology and real life. Algorithmic points are plotted around the faces, as if recording them in real time. 'Portraiture today', Oursler has said, 'is no longer a chiaroscuro painting or photographic mug shot.' Instead, according to Tony Oursler, portraiture is comprised of the ubiquity of data collected of our beings without our express knowledge or consent: 'It's changed the way we think about ourselves'.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018

Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Second Nature, Lehmann Maupin, Aspen (1–31 July 2021). Courtesy Lehmann Maupin and Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Photo: Tony Prikryl.

Tony Oursler Featured Artworks

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Untitled by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerUntitled, 2015Aluminium with LCD screen and media player with sound
124.5 x 86.4 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
aUt-0 by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OursleraU>t-0, 2019Glass, wood, LED screens, audio, video, acrylic, resin, and computer
152.4 x 20.3 x 20.3 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
B!aS by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerB!aS, 2018Aluminium, acrylic paint, resin, video monitor, digital player
121.9 x 129.5 cm
Not for sale
Lisson Gallery
Half (Brain) by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerHalf (Brain), 19982 Sony CPJ 200 projectors, 2 videotape, 2 Samsung VCR, polystyrene foam, paint
14 x 30 x 13 inches
Metro Pictures Contact Gallery
Bo*z* by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerBo*z*, 2019Glass, metal, digital screens, cords, media player
152.4 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Ooks by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerOoks, 2004Acrylic and collage on paper
72 x 57 cm
Dep Art Gallery Contact Gallery
To be determined by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony OurslerTo be determined, 2019Glass, resin, steel, projector, video, and sound
152.4 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
e X ! R by Tony Oursler contemporary artwork
Tony Ourslere X ! R, 2020Inkjet print and acrylic on canvas mounted on wood and metal, with LCD screen and media player
118.7 x 84.5 x 9.5 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery

Tony Oursler Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Tony Oursler Represented By

Lehmann Maupin contemporary art gallery in 536 West 22nd Street, New York, USA Lehmann Maupin New York, Hong Kong, London, Seoul
Lisson Gallery contemporary art gallery in Lisson Street, London, United Kingdom Lisson Gallery London, East Hampton, New York, Shanghai

Tony Oursler In Ocula Magazine

Tony Oursler In Related Press

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Art in the dark: Dark Mofo Related Press Art in the dark: Dark Mofo 17 June 2019, Art Guide Australia

Now in its seventh year, Dark Mofo transforms Hobart into a red-hued spectacle of art, food and music. In addition to new Mona exhibitions Mine by Simon Denny, Siloam, Gorillas in Our Midst, and Kirsha Kaechele's Eat the Problem, Dark Mofo's 2019 program pushes a hefty dose of visual art into the nooks and vacant spaces of Hobart's CBD.

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Tony Oursler: Exploring Technology's Dark Arts Related Press Tony Oursler: Exploring Technology's Dark Arts 30 May 2019, The East Hampton Star

For this exhibition, he has been thinking about water and how it has functioned as a vehicle for magical thinking throughout history, from the belief in sea monsters and other early legends to the pseudoscience of water memory used in homeopathic medicine today. Themes of deluge and the environment reveal themselves, and the work explores how...

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Creature Discomfort: Art in the Cycle of History Related Press Creature Discomfort: Art in the Cycle of History 2 March 2017, Hyperallergic

Creature, a thematic exhibition at The Broad, is one of those shows, like the recently opened Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work at the New Museum in New York, whose meanings and context have been jolted, scrambled, and reloaded by the resistible rise of Donald J. Trump. As it so happens, Creature opened on November 5th, the Saturday...

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Tony Oursler: Museum of Modern Art, New York and Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, USA Related Press Tony Oursler: Museum of Modern Art, New York and Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, USA 13 December 2016, Frieze

A film and exhibition exploring the artist’s vast collection of images and ephemera relating to illusionism, the occult, photography and unexplained phenomena, Imponderable  is an engrossing voyage through the interzone between science and spiritualism. It also demonstrates the ways in which human imagination has reacted to periods of...

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