Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chakaia Booker Sculptures at the DeCordova Museum

I was looking forward to seeing the work of Chakaia Booker in the sculpture park at the DeCordova Museum when New England Wax visited there last Saturday. Booker was one of the sculptors whose work and commentary was featured in a book I purchased recently about Leonardo Drew. Her work was compared to his, and vice versa, because their work is related to but more muscular than the work of Louise Nevelson and also composed of recycled elements; the work of both features the color black dramatically and prominently; and they are both African American. The subject of race and identify has influenced the work of both Drew and Booker.

Approaching the two Booker sculptures

"No More Milk and Cookies", 2003, rubber tires, wood, 14 ½' x 28' x 19', Lent by the Artist, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY. Image courtesy of the DeCordova website.

I had to get the "proper" image of this sculpture from the DeCordova because it seems that my myopic view of the world causes me to look at things very closely - either that or I'm so curious to see how things are made that I want to be right on top of them. At any rate, I also cadged some info from the DeCordova's site about this work. Here is what they say about the inspiration for the work and explanation of the title:

"The undulating shape of No More Milk and Cookies references the emotional arc of a frustrated child or adult, denied the "cookie" they desperately want. Booker developed this work at ground level—where the seed of desire is planted—the first "cookie." Once recognized as something good, desire is heightened, the craving for more increases, and the sculpture grows due to this response. If gone unfulfilled, the craving can turn to desperation, and selfish motivation can turn to manipulation and deceit. Finally, when rejected, the spirit of longing crashes down in a bitter denouement. Charting these ups and downs in her sculpture, Booker seeks to challenge values driven by consumerism."

Booker has been working with found and recycled tires since the early '90s. I don't believe that she does all this work herself because there is so much to it. (Note: this is not a comment on her gender but rather on the extreme amount of detail and the physicality involved.)

Just look at all these cuts in the thick rubber that give the piece its featheriness.

Then see how many scews are driven into the rubber to hold it to the unseen wooden armature.

This is Booker's second piece at the DeCordova, "The Conversationalist," 1997, rubber tires, wood, 20' x 21' x 12', Lent by the Artist, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY.  This is my photo.

Here's what the DeCordova site says about this work:

"Like an actual conversation, this piece physically represents a gradual building of elements that climax at a point of tension or harmony. The many angles of this sculpture create negative spaces that represent opposing arguments and varying opinions. Beginning with conflict and disagreement at its base, the form labors to break free of emotional constraints as it pushes towards the sky and comes to a realization. While independently complex, the two segments that define the overall layout of the sculpture arrive at a final point of accord at the apex.

"Symbolically, Booker's sculptural "conversation" explores the potential for unity and understanding that would ideally originate from conversations between those of different beliefs and values. Booker believes that "art is a storytelling, but the story is open, fluid, mysterious." The artist seeks to encourage viewers to contribute to the story and challenges them to defend their principles and ideals while maintaining an open mind towards shades of difference."

View from the side with one of Jim Dine's hearts in the background.

This view reminds me of Stonehenge.

One of my extreme closeup shots showing the enormous number of screws and slices of tires it took to build the form.

Looking through "The Conversationalist" toward "No More Milk and Cookies."

I have to say that when I read the statements about these works, it was evident that Booker's undergraduate degree in sociology reflects her ongoing interest in human interactions. Amazing that she uses these cast-off relics of the highway to discourse about concepts instead of physical entities. 

Having used rubber in my own work recently (although very lightweight and malleable rubber), I can appreciate Booker's ability to transform it into another substance. Her forms are graceful and dignified and the positive and negative spaces work well in the landscape.

Making a Memory
Booker makes a practice of  sculpting her own appearance to be dramatically distinct and memorable as Louise Nevelson did. However, where Louise N. was notable for her huge false eyelashes and haute couture costumes, Chakaia B. actually creates sculptural forms that she wears - notably huge headdresses of fabric and yarn. Creating and inventing clothing was an early form of art making for Booker and one on which she continues to elaborate.

Louise Nevelson in one of her distinctive outfits.

Chakaia Booker wearing a headdress and sculpted costume, posing with sculptures.

The DeCordova Museum is presenting a major exhibition of Chakaia Booker's work later this year, installed both inside and outside the Museum. With a working title of Chakaia Booker: Inside and Outside, the show will run from May 15 – August 29, 2010. It is being organized by Nick Capasso, Senior Curator, and will have a full-color catalog. Here is his statement about the show: Chakaia Booker is one of America’s pre-eminent African-American contemporary sculptors. Her work in steel surfaced with cut and re-assembled auto and truck tires reconsiders the tradition of Modernist abstract sculpture in 21st-century contexts of black culture, identity, gender, and ecology. This exhibition will be the first to present a large selection of her work both indoors and outdoors. 


Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

These are amazing structures! What a unique expression and I loved the photograph of Louise.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed seeing these and reading about your experience viewing them. I have been fascinated with Booker's work would love to get support to have her work with students here to do a permanent installation on campus. These are powerful and as an artist and observer I am drawn to the use of ties to create very engaging work.
Thanks for the post.

Lynette Haggard said...

Good idea to get some museum shots, Nancy! Yes I think we agree about the biennial.
The tires have some similar qualities and texture to some of the new work you're doing! Great photos of the artists, too.
Plus, thanks for mentoring me on how the heck to blog.

Morgan Alsbrook said...

I am very happy to have found your site. It's nice to have something other than the Globe to provide information to out-of-towners. I especially enjoyed your closeups which give detail on how work is constructed.

Dona Mara said...

Beautiful work and exciting to see the re purposed tires used in such a creative way.