For the past three decades, Los Angeles–based artist Liz Larner (US, b. 1960) has explored the material and social possibilities of sculpture in innovative and surprising ways. Today she is one of the most influential artists of her generation engaged with the medium. Larner’s use of materials ranges from the traditional—such as bronze, porcelain, glass, or stainless steel—to the unexpected: bacterial cultures, surgical gauze, sand, or leather. The artist selects each medium for its physical or chemical properties as well as for social and historical associations. Taking direction from these materials, she creates works that can be delicate or aggressive, meticulously crafted or unruly and formless.
Liz Larner: Don’t put it back like it was, co-organized by the Walker and SculptureCenter, New York, is the artist’s largest survey since 2001. Presenting some 30 works produced between 1987 and 2020, the exhibition includes many pieces never before shown. Featured works include Larner’s early experiments with petri dishes and destructive machines, installations that respond to architecture, and more recent wall-based works in ceramic.
As a whole, the exhibition underscores the power and intention of Larner’s work to reconsider objects in physical space as not only a matter of architectural proportions but also as a social, gendered, and psychological construction. As her objects assert themselves in the gallery environment, they reflect a history of sculptural practice and an understanding of physical space that has largely been shaped by (or credited to) men. The experience of viewing these works compels an awareness of our own embodied presence and relationship to this space.
The exhibition examines ways in which Larner has investigated both the material potential of sculpture and its relationship to the viewer, bringing forward key themes that have occupied her work: the dynamic between power and instability, the tension between surface and form, and the interconnectedness of objects to our bodies.
Works such as Corner Basher (1988) and Orchid, Buttermilk, Penny (1987) call up destruction and decay as creative forces. Sculptures made in pliable fabric or metal, such as Bird in Space (1989) or Guest (2004), physically adapt to and alter our perception of the architectural spaces in which they are shown. The work 2 as 3 and Some, Too (1997–1998)—made from mulberry paper, steel, and watercolor—resembles two interlocking cubes, but like a freehand drawing, its lines have collapsed and softened into a relaxed form that resists rigid geometry or stability. V (planchette) (2013), an aluminum form covered in painted paper, appears to shape shift as we move around it. The exhibition also includes a selection of Larner’s more recent ceramic works of the past decade, in which she has embraced the unpredictability in the processes of shaping, firing, and glazing to create surfaces that allude to both landscape and abstraction.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by Dancing Foxes Press, which includes contributions by exhibition curator Mary Ceruti; Connie Butler, chief curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and poet, playwright, and performance artist Ariana Reines.
Mary Ceruti, executive director, Walker Art Center. The New York presentation is organized by Kyle Dancewicz, interim director, SculptureCenter.