Though the contemporary sculpture world has always been a heavily male dominated medium, the sculptors making the biggest waves this year have all been female artists.
These women are carving out a space for themselves by courageously exploring taboos, embracing bizarre concepts, and experimenting with unconventional materials—the result is inventive, thought-provoking, and visually spellbinding. Here, we list five eclectic sculptors that have been making some of the most compelling and ambitious forms, challenging viewers and critics alike with questions and statements that are helping to define the sculpture world.
1. Rosha Yaghmai
B. 1978, United States. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial | Slide Samples (Lures, Myths) (2018)
Yaghmai’s aim is to use foreignness and estrangement as a way to open up the possibility of a connection to other temporalities, taking the hyphenated immigrant/outsider experience far beyond the stifling, negative, and almost harmful rhetoric of today and redefining it in a psychedelic realm of transcendental beauty.
Rosha Yaghmai started out in photography and slowly began incorporating materials to bring her photography to life, “The flatness of photography prohibited me from exploring the one-to-one relationship a viewer can have with the three-dimensional object,” she said. At the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial, Yaghmai presents her Slide Samples (Lures, Myths) (2018). She takes the photos her father took after he immigrated to California from Iran and projects them on slides—the result is an otherworldly glass-and-resin screen imbued with gossamer thin rays of light.
What we think is amazing about Yaghmai is that her practice is rooted in concepts that explore themes of alienation and transformation, which then comes as no surprise that the focus of her work centers themes consistent with the immigrant experience.
Yaghmai will have a solo exhibition at San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in early 2019.
2. Juliana Cerqueria Leite
B. 1981, United States. Lives and works in New York and São Paulo.
Installation view of Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Blind Spot 2 for Lustwarande, at Oude Warande, Tilburg, Netherlands, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
Leite creates forms that are disruptive and seek to transform meaning, rather than existing within the confines of an environment or reinforcing existing schools of thought.
“Creating new forms is a mission for me,” said Juliana Cerqueira Leite, “a way of not reasserting the world as it is, but of enforcing a transformation.” She often casts her own body parts in clay or plaster, which she cites as her interest in the parameters of the body and the space it creates.
Leite is a cultural renegade in the sense that her work is imbued with rebelliousness; by positing her worldview as one that subsists in the absence of substantiated notions or norms, she challenges the viewer to think about the spaces that exist without or within a context, ultimately leading them to set their sights on the unseen.
Leite will open a solo show at New York’s Arsenal Contemporary in September 2018.
3. Nnenna Okore
B. 1975, Australia. Lives and works in Chicago.
For Nnenna Okore, the “slow, arduous” process of her three dimensional work allows her to immerse herself “in the well of sensory experiences,” she said.
By weaving, dyeing, winding, and teasing materials, she creates dramatic textile installations that often reflect on the wildlife and craft culture she encountered in Nigeria.
Okore’s manually repetitive techniques of fraying, tearing, weaving, dyeing, waxing, accumulating, and sewing recall her childhood experiences, where she watched and participated in daily manual activities, like cooking, washing, harvesting, and fabricating brooms.
One could argue that Okore’s manual process is just as, if not more, important than the finished form.
4. Guan Xiao
B. 1983, China. Lives and works in Beijing.
Sunrise, 2015, at the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art
Xiao’s bizarre synthesis of historical relics and internet aesthetic encourages a conversation of our society’s obsession with technology and the future.
5. Letha Wilson
B. 1976, United States. Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Letha Wilson, Steel I-Beam Wall Push, 2018.
Letha Wilson’s forms live at the intersection between photography and sculpture, image and form.
Wilson is interested in the the “limitless freedom” of sculpture—how it “cannot be defined by material or process,” as she says. Recently on view in her excellent solo exhibition at New York’s GRIMM was Steel I-Beam Wall Push(2018), a giant digital photograph of a vividly colored sky that crumples and puckers slightly around a steel beam inserted into the center of the image.