Kevin Beasley On How Specters Shape His Art

Untitled (eye) 2, 2016
Resin, house dress


Kevin Beasley (born in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1985) creates sculptures and performances out of found objects of cultural and personal significance. Beasley’s practice identifies the point at which concepts in apparent conflict —like past and present, sports and politics, or appearance and disappearance—begin to blur.

Ironically, central to Beasley’s work is touch, though not just in the physical sense; his objects function as a register, both for his own engagement, and the histories of his materials. Items of clothing, shoes, studio debris, and others are filtered through Beasley’s process of molding, cast and forced assume the forms of others. Through this, they are broken and rebuilt, expanded in parts as they enact a duality, simultaneously occupying the space of what they were and what they have become. This extends across his work in sculpture, photography, sound and performance, shaped through an investigation of Beasley’s own experiences, his family and home state of Virginia, as well as larger cultural implications, building new meanings and resonances throughout the works’ individual transformations.

The New York–based artist conceived Untitled (eye) 2 (2016) after discovering a cast-off garment flattened against the ground on a Harlem street and doused it with a malleable resin. Beasley manipulated the material around a mold only until it hardened, producing a luminous surface of drapes that at once conceals and reveals the hollow space behind it. Suggesting the persistence of the garments’ absent wearers, the work invites viewers to imagine other lives and the shapes they assume: “the ghosts of Harlem floating.”

Untitled (eye) 2 (2016) detail

Adrastus Collection’s most recent acquisition, Untitled (eye) 2 (2016) at once appears otherworldly, while simultaneously display traces of its origin plainly through its transparent skin. The loud, vivid patterns of the house dress, similar to those worn by Beasley’s grandmother, reveal itself through pigmented resin in a his stand-alone sculpture. Using resin to give shape and solidity to soft materials such as a house dress, he conferred a pronounced presence to this piece, while also calling attention to what is absent. Wrinkled but firm, Untitled (eye) 2 (2016) simultaneously emphasize and obscure its materials, suggesting the artist’s view of our experience of the world as a combination of the immediately perceived and the partially concealed.

Arguably best-remembered for his big-league debut at the Whitney Museum’s 2014 Biennial, American artist Kevin Beasley grew up in Virginia and currently lives in New York. He received his BFA from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit in 2007 and his MFA from Yale University in 2012. Recent exhibitions include Hammer Projects, Los Angeles (2017) (solo); inHarlem, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Morningside Park, New York (2016-17) (solo); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2016); The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (2016); White Columns, New York (2016); The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2015); MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2015); The Glass House, New Canaan, CT (2015); The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2015); The 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014); The Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2014); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2014). His work is held in the permanent collections of The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and TATE Modern, London.