Bridging almost a century of Brazilian art, Visions of Brazil: Reimagining Modernity from Tarsila to Sonia at Blum & Poe in New York (30 April–22 June 2019), hosted in collaboration with Mendes Wood DM, offers a rereading of Brazilian Modernism through the works of artists practising at different times, from the 20th century through to the...
In 1969, Horikawa Michio, schoolteacher and member of the artist collective GUN (Group Ultra Niigata), filled out the customs paperwork to mail a one-kilogram river stone from Niigata, the proverbial 'backside of Japan', to President Nixon. In return, Horikawa received a thank you note for this 'most unusual Christmas gift'—a muted anti-war...
'He was not a "political" kind of person. He just wanted to be honest and straight. But it was not easy in Korea to live like that,' writes curator Kim Inhye on artist Yun Hyong-keun. For much of his life, Yun lived in proximity to some of the most tumultuous moments in modern Korean history, from which he emerged as a pioneer of abstract...
Melissa Chiu - Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
What/who are you looking forward to seeing at the Venice Biennale this year?
I’m looking forward to seeing the dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) exhibition from Korea, one of the satellite shows. This is an historical show bringing together works from the 1970s including those of Lee Ufan and Park Seobo. I’m interested in the retrieval of international movements that occurred outside the art centres in the 20th century, and this will be a great chance to see the works together for the first time in a major curated show.
Once asserting that 'art is a guaranty of sanity', Louise Bourgeois considered art-making a cathartic process. Over her 80-year career, the French artist tackled themes of sexuality, desire, gender and the unconscious through prints, paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations. While she came to fame only during her 70s, she worked well into her 90s and has been hugely influential on subsequent generations of artists.
Influenced by psychoanalysis, Bourgeois' works are laden with her personal traumas. Born to a family of antique dealers in Paris in 1911 and having witnessed her mother's eventually fatal illness and father's infidelity at an early age, Bourgeois' childhood anxieties permeated her practice. Exemplary of this and made of several wooden planks resembling table legs, the formative sculpture The Blind Leading the Blind (1949) arose from Bourgeois' early memories of watching her parents while hiding beneath furniture.
Bourgeois studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and in artists' studios in Montmartre and Montparnasse. Upon marrying the art historian Robert Goldwater in 1938, she moved to New York City, enrolled in the Art Students League and began making sculptures from wood found on her apartment building's roof. The body and feminism were revealed as concerns in these early works; made in response to her new role as wife and mother in America, the 1946–7 series of drawings and paintings 'Femme Maison', for example, depicts nude female bodies with their heads replaced by houses, signifying the stifling effects of domesticity.
Later sculptures made of wood, marble, bronze, plaster and latex are overtly sexual. The bronze and gold hanging sculpture Janus Fleuri (1968), for example, resembles a flaccid double-headed phallus, while the hanging male genitalia in the latex-and-plaster sculpture Filette (Sweeter Version) (1968–99) similarly points to Bourgeois' conception of masculinity as innately vulnerable. On the other hand, constructed from fabric, marble, steel, wood and glass, the sculpture Couple (2003) depicts the form of an embracing couple upon an oval base and overlain with a sheet of translucent pink fabric, resulting in an overall composition that resembles the labia. Similarly concerned with the female body, the 1991 rubber wall-relief Mamelles depicts 16 breasts arranged in a horizontal formation akin to a classical frieze; in 2001, the work was cast by Tate in fleshy, pink rubber—a material that emphasised its eroticism.
Across sculpture, painting and printmaking, such bulbous forms are a common motif in Bourgeois' works and often resemble egg sacs, phalluses, breasts and testicles. The white marble sculpture Cumul I (1968) depicts several spherical forms in various states of concealment under a sheet, while Bourgeois' installation The Destruction of the Father (1974) saw the artist cover a dining table with round, fleshy latex and plaster forms. Constructed as a way of expressing her anger over her father, the work is bathed in light emitted from red bulbs and laden with violence and resentment.
Hands too appear often in Bourgeois' work, representing touch, femininity and care. The bronze-cast sculpture Nature Study (1986) takes the form of a delicate, feminine-looking hand tied together with a small female figure by a tubular coil. Installed at the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, the large-scale sculpture The Welcoming Hands (1996) depicts intertwined hands, cast in bronze and laid on five granite stones. While their touches are tender, the appendages are also severed at the forearms, suggesting disembodiment or loss. Other representations of the body were less literal but equally personal; the approximately 80 anthropomorphic, totem-like sculptures made of stacked wood that comprise the 'Personnages' series (1945–55), for example, were each inspired by a person Bourgeois knew.
After moving her studio from her Chelsea townhouse to a larger Brooklyn space in 1980, Bourgeois was free to create larger sculptures. It was there that she embarked on series of large-scale installation works that she called 'Cells', so named for their connotations of imprisonment and living organisms. Defying easy categorisation, these works have been described by art historian Julienne Lorz as sitting 'between a museal panorama, a theater set, an environment or installation'. Most often enclosed by wire cages or wood, 'Cells' such as Cell (The Last Climb) (2008) or Red Room (Child) (1994) contain sculptures and readymade objects such as spindles, needles and threads to stand in as abstract visual representations of traumas and bodily anxieties. Cell XXVI (2003), for example, comprises a large cage in which a bulbous form with human legs dangles in front of a mirror. Similarly, Cell XXV (The view of the world of the jealous wife) (2001) sees two ladies' dresses imprisoned in a cell—perhaps an oblique reference to her father's affair with the artist's childhood au pair and the pain inflicted on Bourgeois' sick mother.
It wasn't until 1994 that Bourgeois began the works for which she is perhaps best known: large-scale sculptures of spiders known as 'Mamans'. While she had been drawing the insects since at least the mid-1940s, it took 50 years for the motif to be realised as a metaphor for the mother figure. Instead of frightening or repulsive, Bourgeois considered spiders protective as they eat mosquitos and prevent disease. Furthermore, the webs the actual insects weave recalled Bourgeois own mother's work with tapestries before her premature death. These monumental spiders, which viewers can walk around and below, have been installed at the Brooklyn Museum, Tate Modern's Turbine Hall and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Other notable public artworks include the fountain Father and Son (2005), installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. Comprising larger-than-life sculptures of a man and boy, the fountain's figures are obscured from one another as the water rises and falls—a direct reference to the troubled parent-child relationship that characterises much of Bourgeois' output.
Bourgeois' first museum retrospective was held in 1982 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York when the artist was 70. Since then, and following her death in New York at the age of 98, her work has been exhibited extensively in international institutions.
Daniel Boyd was born in Cairns in 1982, and has been exhibiting his work nationally and internationally since 2005. His identification with the Kudjla/Gangalu peoples has come to inform his work which considers Eurocentric perspectives on Australian history and the ethics of colonisation. His work exposes themes of inheritance and explore the effects of memory and time on the interpretation of images. He frequently uses pastels in a reduced palette of predominantly black, white, and grey, to create scenes made out of lots of small dots on a canvas. The reduced, monochromatic palette alludes to the sadness of events in the past and the personal implications of these events on Boyd, in the present.
Fiona Hall is a leading contemporary Australian artist. Working across painting, collage, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video, and installation, Hall has exemplified her skill in a diverse range of media in a career spanning over four decades. After initially enrolling for a Diploma of Painting at East Sydney Technical College, Hall became more preoccupied with photography. She exhibited her works for the first time in Thoughts and Images: An Exploratory Exhibition of Australian Student Photography at the Ewing and George Paton Galleries, University of Melbourne, in 1974.
Hall’s choice of material is central to her artistic practice as she attempts to address the relationship between nature and contemporary issues such as globalisation and consumerism. Hall’s fascination with the natural world is an ongoing theme throughout her oeuvre and was explored in Fall Prey, her project for dOCUMENTA (13), in which she constructed the bodies of various threatened species (picked from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List) out of the military uniforms of their native countries.
A retrospective of the artist’s work was held at Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2005; and a survey of her work was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. This toured to City Gallery in Wellington, New Zealand in 2008.Hall was awarded the prestigious Contempora 5 Art Award in 1997 and the Clemenger Art Award at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 1999. Her work is held in collections at all major Australian institutions including: the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; and the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.
Isaac Julien is a multi-award winning British artist and filmmaker based in London. Julien graduated with First Class Honours, Bachelor of Fine Arts in film from Saint Martin’s School of Art, London in 1984. He shot to prominence with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston. In 1991 his film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival, and he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his films The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999) and Vagabondia (2000). In 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunst Film Biennale in Cologne for his single screen version of Baltimore, and in 2008, he received a special Teddy for a film on Derek Jarman that he collaborated on with Tilda Swinton, called Derek, at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Julien has had multiple solo and group exhibitions around Europe, the United States and Asia. Solo shows at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (2005), MOCA Miami (2005), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2006), the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea – Museu do Chiado, Lisbon, Portugal (2009), Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2011), SESC Pompeia in Brazil (2012).
His film Ten Thousand Waves (2010) went on world tour, and has been on display in over 15 countries, concluding at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013/14. Informed by his film background, Julien’s gallery and exhibition installations incorporate film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting and sculpture to break down barriers between different artistic disciplines and form fractured narratives about race, globalization, and representation.
Julien is represented in both public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern; Centre Pompidou; Guggenheim Collection; Hirshhorn Collection, Albright-Knox; the Irish Museum of Modern Art; the National Museum of Norway; Brandhorst Collection; Fundación Helga de Alvear, Madrid; Goetz Collection; the Louis Vuitton Art Foundation; LUMA Foundation; and the Zeitz Foundation.
As a progenitor of the Japanese Mono-ha, or School of Things, movement, Lee Ufan led a loose constellation of artists who championed the use of ordinary materials during the late 1960s, significantly altering the course of 20th-century Japanese art. Lee's dense yet poetic text, Beyond Being and Nothingness—A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo, provided something of an intellectual foundation for the movement. The group eschewed representation, choosing instead to zero in on the relationship between perception and material. Its main aim—as expressed by its key figures—was to demonstrate the fluid coexistence of objects, ideas and encounters.
In 1956, Lee began studying painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University, but after two months he relocated to Yokohama, Japan, where he went on to earn a degree in philosophy in 1961. During this period, the restrained painting style of his student work was in formal and conceptual opposition to the free expression of Gutai—the performance-oriented post-war Japanese art movement that anticipated Fluxus and inspired the work of Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow and Nam June Paik.
In the mid-1970s Lee became one of the major exponents of Korean Dansaekhwa ('Monochrome Painting')—a style that became one of the country's most important artistic developments in the 20th century—and the first from that period to bring the movement to Japan. Lee, along with the group's other loosely connected members, emphasised materiality as a means of producing relationships that link objects to viewers. In the repetitive gestural marks of his work, abstraction served to register the body's movement as well as the passage of time. With an eye towards modernist abstraction's best-known devices—seriality, gesture, grids and monochrome—Lee's paintings pushed the bounds of formalist paradigms. And through their affinity to and correspondence with Euro-American art, they proffered new forms of connection across seemingly incompatible ideological positions.
In his early painting series, 'From Point' and 'From Line' (1972–84), Lee combined ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, typical of the traditional Japanese Nihonga painting in which he had trained. Each fastidious brushstroke consisted of multiple simultaneous layers, and where the brush had first made contact with the support, the paint was thick, creating a 'ridge' that would gradually lighten. Rarely did Lee's brush touch the canvas separately more than three times, yet this economic application created a feeling of dynamic tension between gesture and picture plane characteristic of his paintings. In the early 1990s, Lee carried this through to his 'Correspondence' paintings, which consisted of a minimal number of grey-blue brushstrokes, applied on large white surfaces.
Lee's more recent and ongoing 'Dialogue' series, begun around 2006, considers philosophical notions of emptiness and fullness. These exist within a lineage of work that dates back to earlier works such as the 'From Line', 'From Point' and 'From Winds' series, which in the 1970s marked his transition from relatively small strokes predominantly in blue and orange to the intermixing of those colours and the predominance of grey tones from the 1980s.
Today Lee views his pristine white supports, enlivened by touches of paint, and his large site-specific sculptures made from stone and iron as materially opposed to the virtual nature of screen-based media that has now become so ubiquitous.
Although he is highly regarded as a painter, one of Lee's best-known series is 'Relatum' (1968–), three-dimensional groups of rocks dispersed with industrial materials such as steel sheets, glass panes and rubber. Lee began producing them as a response to 1960s Japan and its intensely turbulent socio-political climate. In each of these assemblages, the artist emphasises how constituent parts sit in relation to one another, to space and to surrounding objects, going beyond the enclosed network that is implied by the term 'sculpture' and its more conventional examples.
As well as being the recipient of numerous awards and honours, Lee is also represented in numerous prominent collections around the world. These include The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and The National Museum of Art, Osaka.
In 2010, the Tadao Ando-designed Lee Ufan Museum was opened at the Benesse Art Site on the Japanese Island of Naoshima, dedicated to the artist and his legacy. Lee—a professor emeritus at Tama Art University, Tokyo, where he taught from 1973 to 2007—divides his time between France and Japan.
Sarah Lucas is a British artist known for bawdy, mischievous and confrontational sculpture, photography and installation. She arrived on the English art scene via the 1988 group show, Freeze, alongside several other young British artists coming out of Goldsmiths, University of London—among them the curator/artist Damien Hirst.
Lucas is a feminist who uses raunchy and morbid humour, irony and sexual puns to explore everyday English culture and sexual and psychological tensions. Her works reflect and satirise misogynist norms in general life, tabloids and pornography. In some of her earliest work (from 1991) this was done through a series of enlarged spreads of extracts from tabloid newspapers that exemplified seedy working-class male attitudes towards women.
In her photographic self-portraits—starting with the seminal Eating a Banana (1990)—she adopts a confrontational macho or 'butch' appearance while acting as an object of male desire through sexual euphemisms and suggestive body language. Sometimes this involves produce such as an uncooked chicken, fried eggs, bananas or fish acting as substitutes for male or female sexual organs. The same principle is extended to her installations, including Au Naturel (1994), in which two melons and a bucket alongside two oranges and a cucumber on an old mattress are used to represent a heterosexual couple in bed.
Alongside perishable produce, a common early motif in the artist's work was cigarettes. Whether the cigarettes act as the material of her work—as in Self Portrait with Cigarettes (2000)—or are seen in hand during one of her more vulnerable self-portrait photographs—such as Human Toilet Revisited (1998)—they are a strong presence in her art. They are a means of asserting independence and introversion, and are crucial to Lucas for art-making. They are a conjoined symbol of sex and death—a psychological paradox that fascinates the artist.
This use of commonplace items—from cigarettes to household furniture (including a freezer)—is typical of Lucas' sculptural practice. Following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, who pioneered the use of the 'ready-made', the renegade Lucas sees the ironic and euphemistic potential in certain everyday objects. Her 1996 Is Suicide Genetic?, made from a toilet bearing writing, may be seen as a direct nod to Duchamp's 1917 Fountain.
Combinations of such ready-made items were sometimes used by Lucas as stand-ins for fragmented or whole bodies, as in Bitch (1995), where a table, T-shirt, two melons and a vacuum-packed smoked fish mimic a female body. Lucas positioned these ambiguous forms to resemble parts or the whole of the human body in sexual poses and emphasise organs associated with sex and desire.
A hallmark of her more recent sculpture (since 2009) has been the fleshy, human-like, long tubular forms made with stuffed tights and wire. These are arranged provocatively to reinforce their representation of sexualised female limbs. The way they twist and curve, sometimes engulfing themselves, is evocative of an intimate embrace. Lucas first began experimenting with the stuffed stockings in her 'Bunny' series (started in 1997).
Lucas' ambiguous forms are now often combined with common, art-irreverent materials like cinder blocks, merino sheep's jaws and ceramic toilets. In constructions such as Bike (2011), the limb-like tubular forms intertwine with these objects to form twisted corporeal parodies—caricatures that mimic misogynist sexual stereotypes.
Chris Ofili is best known for his mix of religious and secular elements in work that complicates distinctions between the sacred and the profane. While his paintings and works on paper often comprise an assortment of materials—from paint, gold leaf, resin, glitter and map pins to elements of collage—it is the artist's use of elephant dung that has been the cause of much debate. Ofili's use of the material in The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), along with his depiction of a Black Madonna surrounded by pictures of female genitalia sourced from adult magazines, became the subject of a large controversy. Following its inclusion in the Brooklyn Museum leg of the Sensation exhibition (1999), the work incited condemnation from New York City's then-mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as a series of protests in the United States.
Back home across the Atlantic, Ofili—a member of the Young British Artists (YBAs) alongside figures such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas—was no stranger to controversy, having established himself amidst a milieu of Britain's most contentious art-world agitators. And yet in spite of the controversies Ofili was awarded the Turner Prize in 1998 as a mark of his contribution to contemporary art. He was the first Black artist to win the prestigious award. In 2003 Ofili was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in Italy, where he mounted 'Within Reach'—a suite of paintings set in an immersive kaleidoscopic space designed by the Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
The artist's earlier works—produced during and soon after his student years at Chelsea College of Arts and the Royal College of Art in London—were intricately patterned, vibrantly multi-coloured and textured abstract compositions. His later work, produced from the mid-1990s onwards, marked the creation of his now-signature style of figurative painting, fusing influences from a variety of sources including religious iconography, 'Blaxploitation' cinema, jazz, hip hop, comics, African cave painting (inspired by a trip to Zimbabwe in 1992) and the work of Romantic poet William Blake. Ofili deployed this diverse array of source material alongside his heady mix of media to create complex and challenging images of Blackness in both its contemporary and historical manifestations. As an artist of Nigerian ancestry and a member of the African diaspora, his forays into the intricacies of identity can be read as both a personal meditation and a political commentary.
Following his move to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili created the 'Blue Rider' series, named after the short-lived 20th-century German Expressionist group. Much like its namesake, the series is a synthesis of visual, musical and folk art influences. Ofili's large blue and silver paintings of this period marked a significant change in his practice, seeing him adopt a darker, more pared-back palette, evoking dreamlike scenes set in the moonlit landscapes of his new Caribbean environment.
Chris Ofili's works are represented in prominent collections internationally, including the British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working between Port of Spain, Trinidad; London; and Brooklyn.
One of the most significant artists in modern Korean history, Park Seo-Bo was born in 1931 in Yecheon, Gyeongbuk, South Korea. As a young artist in the 1950s, Park was among the first to introduce abstraction to Korean art and is best known as a founding figure of the art movement, Dansaekhwa.
Dansaekhwa, also known as baeksaekpa (the School of White), refers to a group of paintings in Korean art that began to appear in the late 1950s and fully emerged in the art world by the mid-1970s. Translated as 'monochrome paintings', Dansaekhwa is characterised by minimal colour palettes, repetitive gestures and manipulation of the canvas or paper through soaking, tearing, pulling and other techniques. Park and contemporaries such as Lee Ufan, Chung Chang-Sup and Kwon Young-Woo began incorporating abstract motifs and unconventional techniques in their works as a reaction against the prevailing academicism. Dansaekhwa was also a response to the unstable conditions in the country at the time; 35 years of Japanese Occupation and the Korean War had been replaced by a conspicuous American presence. Many artists expressed their perception of a changing Korean cultural identity through paintings that wedded Western and Eastern techniques. Despite its introduction as a 'movement' to the West, however, Dansaekhwa was never an official movement and the term itself was coined in retrospect by the curator and scholar Yoon Jin Sup in 2000.
Although abstraction in Korean art was influenced by North American Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, Park's paintings are not an uncritical absorption of outside influences but rather a negotiation between the traditional and the new. 'Ecriture'—his most famous and ongoing series conceived in the 1960s—uses Western Modernist techniques of painting on traditional Korean hanji paper. In early works, Park used a pencil or a stylus to make repetitive marks on the canvas, but since the 1980s he has been manipulating the pulp of hanji paper while its surface is wet. Myobop—as 'Ecriture' paintings are known in the Korean language—means 'law of drawing', a phrase that reveals the artist's interest in Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Further nicknamed 'the journey of the hand', the process of repetition eliminates individual gestures and becomes one of meditation.
Paintings in the 'Ecriture' series have experienced stylistic changes over the years. Park's work from the 1990s and early 2000s were black and white, two of the most important colours in East Asian philosophy—black represents time and pure emptiness, while white alludes to death spirituality and the void. Since 2002, Park has incorporated other colours as well, using acrylic paint to mould linear patterns on the wet pulp of hanji paper. From a distance, these monochrome paintings appear to be one colour or empty. Borrowing the language of abstraction, rejecting painterly codes from Western Modernism and combining these methodologies with Eastern philosophies, Park attempts to capture and convey the 'ideal of emptiness or "no mind"', according to a press release from Tina Kim Gallery's 2016 solo exhibition of Park's work.
Park has also led an impressive career as an educator of art in South Korea. Between 1962 and 1994, he taught as a professor at Hongik University, Seoul—one of the most prestigious institutions of art in the country and his alma mater (from which he graduated in 1954). In 1986 he became the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, a position he would hold until 1990. Park continues to participate in the contemporary Korean art scene through his Seo-Bo Art and Cultural Foundation, Seoul-based and founded in 1994.
Park's work has been recognised both nationally and internationally. He has exhibited in many institutions across Asia, the USA and Europe, and has exhibited twice at the Venice Biennale (2015, 1988). Referred to as the father of Dansaekhwa, Park's paintings have been included in several group exhibitions, including When process becomes form: Dansaekhwa and Korean abstraction, the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2016); and Dansaekhwa, a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Park was awarded the President's Citation in 1972 and received the Silver Crown Cultural Medal for his services toward the advancement of contemporary art in Korea in 2011.
Sarah Sze is an American artist known for her intricate installations and taxonomic arrangements, both consisting of everyday objects. A fluid amalgamation of two-dimensional image, sculpture, video, installation and science, Sze's work not only challenges the convention of sculpture as a static object, but also offers a fantastical investigation into the measurement of time and space.
Sze refers to her artworks as experiments, at the centre of which experiments exist investigations into a certain material's context or qualities. In the case of Cotissi—an installation created for Glasstress in 2017 (an official collateral event of that year's Venice Biennale)—the inquiry is into the properties of broken glass. Set in concrete, the glass shards originally set aside for recycling are both scintillating to look at and dangerous, given their jagged edges. In an earlier installation titled Stone Series (2013-5) (part of Sze's solo exhibition organised by Victoria Miro in 2015), the artist arranged a group of rocks on the floor. At first glance, the rocks appear massive and immovable; however, closer inspection reveals them to be lightweight imitations created by covering wire armature with printed boulder-pattern. On the wall, a row of canvases contains the printed textures of the rocks on display, flattening the weight and volume associated with a rock into two dimensions.
Another concern that Sze repeatedly returns to is time, as explored in Still Life with Desk and Calendar Series (both 2013-5). Still Life with Desk is a mixed-media sculpture that seems to have been frozen in a moment of disintegration; an intricate wire structure acts as a desk over which the artist has placed office-related objects including photographs, stationery, takeaway coffee cups, bottled water and potted plants. Some objects have spilled onto the floor, while more appear ready to follow. The spillage on the ground also includes silkscreen prints of newspaper front pages that, while all dated January 1, 2014, were each issued in a different location in a different time zone. In a further attempt to mark various moments in time, Sze replaces the photographs in the prints with pictures of the night sky.
Similarly centred on the passage of time, Calendar Series saw Sze collect 90 front pages of The New York Times. The artists again swapped out the newspaper's photographs, this time for images of nature such as the ocean or a snowscape. Discussing the work in an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Sze recalled the questions that arose while working with time: 'How do you measure either space or time through materials or objects? What is our behaviour in doing that? ... How do we mark time not only physically, but emotionally or psychologically?'
Calendar Series—originally conceived for an exhibition at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2014—later developed an unexpected political dimension, beginning with its acceptance for the 1st Asian Biennial and the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (both 2015) in China. When Chinese authorities requested Sze remove parts of the newspaper that referenced China, the artist responded by painting over them with black acrylic. In 2016, Sze presented another revision of Calendar Series for Protest—a group exhibition at Victoria Miro in London that showcased artists whose works challenge the status quo—in which she obliterated all written content, save for references to China.
In 2016, Sze expanded her interest in ways of measuring time and space with Timekeeper, a tabletop installation that resembles a scientist's den or a writer's desk with its assemblage of objects including mirrors, lamps, stools, stones, alarm clocks with neon numerals and a metronome, among others. For this installation, the artist projected a diverse range of videos onto a myriad of surfaces, illustrating the many forms of time; the footage includes cheetahs running in slow motion, birds in flight and at rest, and water flowing. Displayed inside a darkened room, the installation was a rich landscape of fragmented and kaleidoscopic imagery.
Reminiscent of Timekeeper is Measuring Stick (2015), another tabletop installation that measures time and space through the moving image. Inspired by the film Powers of Ten (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames and its use of the factor of ten to quantify the universe, Measuring Stick combines mathematics and science with art; one of the installation's projections is a live-feed of data from NASA that charts the distance between Voyager 1 and Earth.
Although she is widely recognised for her sculptures, Sze also considers drawing a significant part of her practice for its sense of immediacy and potential to develop into other mediums. Her familiarity with the two-dimensional form stems from her background in painting, graduating with a BA from Yale University in 1991 and an MFA from New York's School of Visual Arts in 1997.
Exhibiting internationally since the late 1990s, Sze has held solo and group exhibitions at Victoria Miro, London (2018, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2009, 2007); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2017); Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2015, 2014, 2010); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2003); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2002); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2002); and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1999) among others. She has participated in the Venice Biennale and its collateral events four times, and in 2013 she represented the United States with Triple Point—an exhibition of interrelated and immersive installations that examined the notion of the compass and our desire to find equilibrium. Her participation in other international group exhibitions includes La Biennale de Lyon (2009), Liverpool Biennial (2008), Whitney Biennial (2000) and Carnegie International (1999). Sze lives and works in New York.
Kara Walker is a contemporary African American artist whose works explore themes of race, violence, identity, sexuality, and gender. Her practice encompasses a variety of media including painting, drawing, light projection, and film thematically focussing on exposing prejudices and bringing attention to enduring biases within relationships, both political and personal.
Walker’s most recognisable works are her panoramic cut-paper silhouettes of black figures against white walls which engage with unsettling historical events by proposing alternative narratives. Throughout her oeuvre, Walker confronts the atrocities committed against African American slaves during the Antebellum South whilst also relating to present-day concerns of inequality.
At age 28, Walker was among the youngest people to receive a MacArthur Fellowship when she did so in 1997. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012 and has been the recipient of numerous accolades including the 2004 Lucelia Artist Award from The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Deutsche Bank Artist of the Business Year Award in 2000, and two Honorary Doctorates, one from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 and the other from the California College of the Arts in 2009.
The artist’s recent solo exhibitions have included Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power at the University of Wyoming Art Museum (2016); Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road (2015); Anything but Civil: Kara Walker’s Vision of the Old South at the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis (2014); and Rise Up Ye Mighty Race! At Art Institute Chicago (2013). Walker’s work is held in several public collections including The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Musee d’Art Moderne, Luxembourg; The Tate Gallery, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.Kara Walker lives and works in New York.
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