Solo exhibition of large-scale sculptures by Karyn Olivier explores the emotional weight of monuments

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Solo exhibition of large-scale sculptures by Karyn Olivier explores the emotional weight of monuments
Karyn Olivier, Wall, 2017–2018. Bricks, used clothing, steel. Courtesy of the artist.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania presents Karyn Olivier: Everything That's Alive Moves, a solo exhibition of six large-scale sculptures by Philadelphia-based artist Karyn Olivier. Everything That’s Alive Moves offers the rare opportunity to examine the recent trajectories of Olivier’s investigation into memorials and monuments, and their relation to issues of citizenship and individual responsibility. The exhibition, on view January 24 through May 10, 2020, builds on several public projects and commissions created by the artist in recent years and continues to revise, rework, and expand on key works from her past.

“We are thrilled to present the work of local artist Karyn Olivier. Olivier’s ability to connect with the community and people through her work is profound,” said John McInerney, Interim Director at ICA. “She adeptly shifts our experience of the familiar to reveal the malleable and unfixed nature of objects and spaces, enabling us to ponder meaning, honor the past, while creating new possibilities.”

Everything That's Alive Moves brings together two tactics the artist has focused on in recent years: architectural scale and the minute, modest gesture. A fully-functioning carousel for one rider, a car made entirely of repurposed shoes—gathered for export to poor countries—and a brick wall built using clothing wedged between the bricks as mortar, are among the older works reimagined and constructed on-site at ICA. In looking at these past works, Olivier is thinking more about how large-scale need not be a refutation of, or counter to, a desire to be “human-sized.”

Karyn Olivier’s recent thinking has been centered on civic space— specifically monuments and memorials, driven in part by her planning, building, and writing for several public commissions and memorials. The most recent being awarded in fall 2019 the commission for the Dinah Memorial to be built at Stenton, also known as the James Logan Home, in Philadelphia.

Three new sculptures reflect Olivier’s 2018–19 year of study in Rome, investigating the city’s ruins, histories, and public works. These sculptures also offer a chance to attune ourselves to her care for the accumulation of often-overlooked patterns, and how monuments have embedded in them the perpetual irresolution of overlapping histories. Recently named a 2019 Pew Fellow, Olivier has expanded her interest in local histories, the significance of monuments, as the artist notes, “Maybe monuments can be instruments that offer us a mirror to give witness to ourselves, our community, our city, or to the world. Or maybe they implore us to be aware of the present moment and allow us to reflect on our shared complicated histories.

"Karyn's searching curiosity is brilliantly indefatigable. Her sculpture incisive, her formal care and emotional responses to space simply searing,” said Anthony Elms. “What's more is that still her art contains enormous amounts of joy for and delight in our world and the people who, through gestures big and small, recognized or unnoticed, endure and thrive for all our betterment."

Karyn Olivier (born 1968, Trinidad and Tobago; lives Philadelphia) received her MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art and her BA at Dartmouth College. In 2018 a permanent addendum was created by Olivier to a controversial Anne Rice O’Hanlon fresco in Lexington, Kentucky, calling attention to the African American and Native American figures within the piece. In 2015 she created a lenticular billboard in Central Park for Creative Time and New York’s Percent for Art Program. In 2019 Olivier was commissioned for the twenty-first-century Dinah Memorial at Stenton in Philadelphia. Olivier has exhibited at the Gwangju and Busan biennials, the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (Dakar, Senegal), The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Whitney Museum of Art, MoMA P.S.1, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, The Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh), SculptureCenter (New York), Drexel University, the University of the Arts, and the University of Delaware Museum, among others. She has received numerous awards, including the 2018–19 Nancy B. Negley Rome Prize, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, the William H. Johnson Prize, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award, a 2019 PEW Fellowship, a Creative Capital Foundation grant, and a Harpo Foundation grant. Olivier is associate professor of sculpture at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Philadelphia.

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