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Sarah Morris' Black Beetle on View at Fondation Beyeler
Sarah Morris, Black Beetle [Origami], 2008. Household gloss paint on wall, 23.66m x 3.84m Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel.

BASEL.- The Fondation Beyeler is presenting a project by the New York artist Sarah Morris (*1967) in its lower-level exhibition spaces. Morris has executed a new, very long mural (“Black Beetle,” 23.7 x 3.8 meters) that reflects her interest in origami, a Japanese paper-folding technique that originated in China. The work is supplemented by selected paintings from her series “Capital” and “Rings,” begun in 2001 and 2006. In addition, the Fondation plans a program of Morris’s films on New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

In her paintings and films Morris concerns herself with the structure of architecture and the urban environment. Based on their distinctive features, she creates diagrammatic portraits of large American cities. As this focus implies, Morris’s project enters an interesting visual dialogue with our exhibition “Fernand Léger: Paris – New York.” In his own unique way, Léger too addressed the modern city, the geometry of its architecture, and the rhythms of urban life.

Since the mid-1990’s, Sarah Morris has been internationally recognized for her complex abstractions and films, which are derived from close observation of the architecture and psychology of urban environments. In her paintings she uses colors and geometries that she associates with a city’s unique aesthetic vocabulary and palette, as well as its character and energy.

Morris’ main interest has been major American cities, and in her films, “Midtown” (New York), 1998, “AM/PM” (Las Vegas), 2000, “Capital” (Washington D.C.), 2001, “Miami”, 2002, and “Los Angeles”, 2004, Morris gives her attention to the special character of these exceptional places. Because of their particular cultural, commercial, and political configurations, the cities’ appearances differ markedly. In the works, Morris treats each city as a self-referential system. The artist creates a montage of scenes from everyday life, distinctive architectural features, and media images that reflect the official image of each city in her filmwork. She arranges these elements in a rhythmically edited sequence. Her work is a visualization of the almost imperceptible interweaving of power and daily urban routine.

"Midtown” was shot in New York during a single day and brings together sequences of the streets of midtown Manhattan with the anonymity of the crowded side-walks, and the power of the buildings that frame the everyday movements of the city. Almost a catalogue of peri-pheral actions, which take place in every film ever made, it explores the narrative possibilities inherent in the simplest actions, and the typical activity of the street. The fragmented nar-rative emphasizes the structure of modern life and creates a space in which the viewer takes an extremely active role.

Sarah Morris made the film “Capital” in Washington during the final days of the Clinton administration. It is a record of now unimaginable access to the centers of power. “Capital” continues Morris's investigation of the way we decode and therefore begin to understand the built world around us. The Mall, the White House Press Office, the World Bank, uniformed members of the Secret Service, the Presidential motorcade, the Watergate Complex, the Kennedy Center, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the Pentagon, the daily activities of the President and an overall consideration of the city form a sequence of reflection points for her series of paintings. While her earlier paintings from New York and Las Vegas offered a new examination of the codes and structures of our urban environment, these new works intro-duce a revised mapping of power, desire, urbanism and design.

The new work focuses on the city of Beijing, a city at a transitionary moment where the upcoming Olympic event is not simply an event but functions as a catalyst of development. There are two sets of paintings being developed in parallel to each other in relation to Beijing: “Rings” and “Origami”. On view at the Fondation Beyeler are two works from the new series: a large-scale wall painting, titled “Black Beetle [Origami]” and recent painting, “1994 [Rings]”.

The “Origami” series is based on found diagrams. It is commonly accepted that origami originated in China with the advent of paper in the 1st century AD and then spread to Japan in 600AD. Contemporary applications of origami range from the continuation of ancient tradi-tions, such as folding 1000 paper cranes in order to realize a wish, to mathematical and engineering solutions. Origami in popular culture, particularly film, is often used to signify an impending event. It is a simple process which gives rise to complex forms.

The “Rings” series takes as its main reference point the city’s increasingly congested traffic arteries known as the “Ring Roads”. The "1st Ring Road" was named at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The original names of the roads had been changed to express the strong political propaganda required to eulogize and advocate the ideology of the Cultural Revolution. When the political turmoil ended, the names had to be changed again. The ring roads may be seen as analogous to the Olympic rings and the upcoming event that is changing the face of the city.

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