Walead Beshty's conceptual multi-media works lay bare and make transparent the conditions of artistic production in our contemporary, globalised economy. Beshty first became known with his FedEx sculptures which emulated real FedEx boxes, but instead were made of clear glass or copper. The works were shipped unprotected, accumulating signs of wear and tear and other markings in the process, revealing aspects of production that usually remain invisible. Such a theme has carried out throughout Beshty's practice, for example with his Copper Surrogates, which comprise of polished raw copper panels that are handled with bare hands during their installation and deinstallation. The traces of human labor become visible on the sensitive copper, revealing how material and production circumstances affect how a work of art is created, presented and perceived. Aside from being a query into materiality, these works also raise the question of collective and collaborative artistic authorship.Read More
Beshty's photography also investigates production processes. His series 'Travel Pictures' for example is comprised of photographs which have been manipulated by undergoing damage by airport X-Ray machines, and his monumental photograms which incorporate the camera-less, negative-less photographic processes forged by earlier artists such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, are similarly produced by placing an object on photosensitive paper before exposing it. His works tell the story of their own making, such as the Barbican commissioned work A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying Around at Random All Over the Workbench. For this, Beshty covered a large curved wall with 12,000 cyanotypes (a 19th century photographic process) of all the objects that passed through his studio in one year, including everyday ones such as invoices, letters, invitations and so on. Through this, Beshty explores how art production is influenced by the systems it operates in. He exposes the social, political and economic systems that overlap with his production process.
Alongside his practice as a visual artist, Beshty is also an acknowledged theorist and curator. In 2018, he dedicated himself to a major project exploring the rich history of mechanically-reproduced imagery from the nineteenth century to the present. This project was shown at Luma Arles and presented in the comprehensive publication Picture Industry: A Provisional History of the Technical Image, 1844–2018.
Beshty's work has been shown extensively throughout the world, with solo exhibitions at Fondazione MAST, Bologna (2020); Kunst Museum Winterthur (2020); Musée d'art moderne et contemporain, Geneva (2019); Great Hall Exhibition, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2015); Barbican Centre, London (2014); Malmö Konsthall (2011); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2011); Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, Spain (2011); PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City (2004) among many others. His group shows include Tate Modern, London (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2018); The Jewish Museum, New York (2017); Camden Arts Centre, London (2016); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2015); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2013); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2013); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2011); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010) and many more. Beshty's work can be found in public collections worldwide, among others including Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art all in New York; Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate and Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Text courtesy Capitain Petzel.