Art created by Turner-prize nominated Scottish artist Karla Black is confounding to first-time viewers by virtue of the materials she uses and the color palette she employs—predominantly light blue, pink, and pale yellow pastels.

Utilizing large pieces of inexpensive paper, powdered forms of paint and plaster, glitter and cellophane, hand-sanitizing gel, bath bombs, liquid foundation, eye shadow and lipstick, her materials are ordinary. What results are sculptural forms that are large, unsubstantial, and a bit clumsy—they tip and buckle and regularly shed their powder patina. These unconventional materials and formal elements are chosen and made use of by the artist to allow her to investigate play, tactility, and creative expression. Using notions of play results in Black’s ability “to differently engage the viewer,” writes art historian Elyse Speaks, and sets up the work “as a series of possibilities.”

Black’s work is also deeply rooted in dialogues with the history of art, particularly 20th-century American art. Approximately 15 of Black’s sculptures made in the last two decades will be installed in the Anna K. Meredith Gallery alongside paintings and sculptures selected by the artist from the Art Center’s permanent collections. Artists selected include Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Eva Hesse, Claus Oldenburg, and Richard Tuttle, among others.

The highlight of Black’s project at the Art Center will be major sculptures she’ll create on site specifically for the I. M. Pei galleries, the space that Black was particularly taken with when she visited in the fall of 2018.

Karla Black: 20 Years at the Des Moines Art Center will be the artist’s first major solo museum exhibition to include both site-specific works and a representative selection of sculptures made over the course of her career.

A full-color catalogue including four essays will accompany the exhibition. Authors include Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; Jenni Sorkin, Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Elyse Speaks, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Notre Dame.


In Conversation with Karla Black

This Artist Talk with Karla Black is a prelude to her exhibition Karla Black: 20 Years.


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