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November 17, 2023

Acquisition: Liza Lou

Liza Lou, "Closet"

Liza Lou
Closet, 1997–1998
glass beads, wood and New York couple's empty bottles and unwanted household objects
overall: 233.68 x 83.82 x 57.15 cm (92 x 33 x 22 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Sherry and Joel Mallin


Based in Los Angeles, California, Liza Lou (b. 1969) is best known for her pioneering use of glass beads in contemporary art, using them to create paintings, sculptures, and room-size installations. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Closet (1997–1998), one of five major beaded installations made by Lou in the 1990s. It joins Blue (2015–2016), a monochromatic red, hand-beaded canvas by Lou in the National Gallery’s collection.

Closet is an outstanding example of the artist’s practice during the late 1990s. Conceived as both an intimate portrait of a marriage and a universal portrayal of daily life, Lou reproduced the utility closet of Joel and Sherry Mallin, who donated the work to the National Gallery. For a one-year period, the Mallins sent their discarded household items to the artist, from empty cleaning bottles and paint cans to old tennis shoes and board games and Lou selected discreet objects for their evocative meanings. Using brightly colored glass beads, Lou transformed every surface, including the doors and shelves of the original closet. The result is a radiant, light-reflecting sculpture that transforms an everyday space into a glittering domestic tableau that is both private and public.

Lou has been producing works of art that utilize glass beads and repetitive processes to explore broader metaphorical ideas and possibilities for the past 30 years. Her work and practice break down traditional hierarchies between fine art and craft by blending the materials of sculpture, textiles, painting, and jewelry making. Labor and the processes of making, particularly the meticulous techniques involved in the handmade, are central to her work. In the 1990s Lou worked on her own, and in 1998 she began to enlist the community and studio assistants for large-scale works. From 2005 to 2020 the artist divided her time between Los Angeles and Durban, South Africa. In Durban, she established an art studio and a women’s advocacy program, the first of its kind to combine social practice within an art studio setting.

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