Chakaia Booker and Maren Hassinger make great art for the great outdoors
Large-scale art presents challenges, especially if the art is so expansive that only the most spacious galleries can accommodate it. In the case of two separate-but-tandem exhibitions — Maren Hassinger’s Nature, Sweet Nature and Chakaia Booker’s Shaved Portions — Oklahoma’s open air will be their gallery.
For Nature, Sweet Nature, Hassinger, a trained dancer who combined performance and sculpture in much of her work beginning in the 1970s, contributed two separate works, Garden and Paradise Regained. Both pieces are constructed using galvanized wire rope, and the cumulative effect is sheer kinetic grace. Depending on the viewer’s position and perspective as they view it near our main entrance, the elements of the sculptures gently wave and undulate.
Both Nature, Sweet Nature and Shaved Portions open Sept. 9 and will be on view through Summer 2022.
Hassinger began working with wire rope more than 40 years ago with such installations as Leaning, Whirling and Walking, each of which she said simulated legs “propelled by the wind.” Her work took her from her native Los Angeles to a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem and, eventually, to two decades as director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
Director of Curatorial Affairs Carina Evangelista said Nature, Sweet Nature will be installed amid natural vegetation, creating both commonality and contrast with its surroundings.
"Known for the use of both industrial and organic materials, Hassinger underscores our tenuous relationship to nature — what might be fragile or responsive in the interdependent nature of our ecosystem," she said.
Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis first became aware of Hassinger’s work when he attended the artist’s alma mater, Bennington College in Vermont. He learned that Hassinger was interested in working with Oklahoma Contemporary after a visit to the Aspen Art Museum, where Nature, Sweet Nature was installed on the roof of the facility.
“We've been looking for a way to partner with the Aspen Art Museum for a number of years now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Davis said.
Booker’s materials are just as industrial. Her preferred medium is automotive rubber, the tires that inevitably fall flat or shred after years of use. Booker used to scour the area around her East Village apartment for these raw materials. She found the sturdiness and pliability of old tires to be ideal for weaving giant monuments addressing use, waste and renewal.
Working inside a 20,000 square foot space in Allentown, Penn., Booker now receives donations from companies like Michelin, which supply her with distressed tires from race cars and motorcycles. In Shaved Portions, Booker creates a massive, cathedral-like structure that visitors can walk through and appreciate the power of its texture, structure and message.
“The material was just there,” Booker said in a recent New York Times profile. “I was looking, like everybody else, trying various things. When the tires came in, it was like, I gotcha! And I didn’t look back.”
Booker, who also uses woven textiles to create her elaborate headdresses, created Shaved Portions as a new installation for Campbell Art Park. Talks began with Booker in 2018.
“It took a while to get Chakaia on board,” Davis said. “But once she was, she became really 100 percent focused and dedicated to coming up with a new idea, a new concept for a sculpture that would be responsive to the Campbell Art Park site.”
Evangelista said like Nature, Sweet Nature, Shaved Portions offers different experiences from different angles and distances.
"The overall silhouette of Booker’s installation will shift according to viewing perspective, including top view from the terrace of Oklahoma Contemporary," Evangelista said. "The negative spaces serve as voids that then get filled by the people who walk through the installation — like an open-air cathedral set in the green lawn."
"Booker’s body of work remains rooted in the early days of her career, transforming urban detritus into biomorphic sculptures when she began to salvage rubber tires from the streets and discarded materials from construction sites in the early 1990s. Able to coax an intensity of feeling out of abstract shapes, Booker fashions into three-dimensional forms of staggering scale and incredible presence cast-off industrial scraps that would otherwise have languished as measures of wanton waste. If the late actor Carrie Fisher said, 'Take your broken heart, and make art,' Shaved Portions is the art from the broken heart of urban blight, literally monumental in scale."
Oklahoma Contemporary believes that art is for everyone. With Nature, Sweet Nature and Shaved Portions, art will come to all, including people who have never set foot inside the new facility or perhaps have never visited an art center, gallery or museum.
“To me, the most beautiful aspect of public art is just that it's public,” Davis said. “There are no walls, there are no barriers. It's available for anyone walking down the street, driving or biking to engage with. It's an invitation to encounter the sublime. And that's one thing we take very seriously at Oklahoma Contemporary, as we're so fully connected to the idea that art is for audiences and that we need audiences in order to present art. Public art presents the best opportunity to welcome and engage the public, because it is there for them.”
Images: Maren Hassinger, Paradise Regained, 2020. Wire rope and concrete. © Maren Hassinger. Photo by Simon Klein, courtesy Aspen Art Museum. Chakaia Booker, in-progress studio work on Shaved Portions, 2021. © Chakaia Booker.
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