Bodies of Work
June 17, 2017 – February 18, 2019
East Building, Upper Level
The phrase body of work refers to the production of a single artist, writer, or composer. So does corpus (Latin for body) and oeuvre (French for work). Such terms become literal through the artist’s depiction of the body itself. This permanent collection installation focuses on works of art made over the past 50 years that reimagine the human form as a site of fantasy, fear, and travail. As the critic Britt Julious reminds us, “Art is as much about labor as it is about interpretation.”
Taken together, these paintings and sculptures suggest just how much contemporary artists continue to grapple with the many different ways that the body has figured in the history of art and broader historical narratives. Bob Thompson’s majestic
Artist Focus: Yinka Shonibare
In the last half-century, in particular, artists have resisted any singular approach to depicting the human body. Underscoring this point,
Alternatively, an artist may present an impression, observation, or conception of someone with little or no detailed description: it need not be mimetic. Portraits may even be abstract or represent only a single part of an individual.
Artist Focus: Byron Kim
What is this whole? Is it a whole so complex that it disintegrates at the very moment of examination? … When we look at this group portrait, some of us may assume certain things about the racial composition of its sitters. As the maker of this work, I know that there are many white people who appear to be black when represented in this severely abstracted manner. It goes without saying that the converse is true. Furthermore, there are so many different colors across any single person’s body and those colors change, sometimes drastically, from part to part and from season to season.
The vast grid of monochromatic rectangles raises questions about the interdependent nature of people’s identifying characteristics.
Artist Focus: Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Felix Gonzalez-Torres broke down barriers between art and its audiences by encouraging participation, broadening concepts of originality and authorship, and challenging notions of ownership.
His paper stacks call for the viewer to complete their meaning by removing a piece of paper from the whole. As viewers take sheets, the work slowly disappears; it is renewed as paper is added at the discretion of the owner. Thus, the work becomes a metaphor for cycles of life and death, regeneration and decay.
The exhibition is curated by Molly Donovan, curator of art, 1975–present, National Gallery of Art.