Liza Lou: Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds

6 Sep 2018 – 27 Oct 2018

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Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present Liza Lou: Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds as the inaugural exhibition of the gallery’s new, additional location at West 24th Street and Tenth Avenue.


This exhibition, her first in New York City in over a decade, will encompass painting, sculpture, drawing, and video. A continuation of the exhibition will be featured at Lehmann Maupin’s West 22nd Street location, with a room dedicated to an installation of paintings and sculpture from Lou’s Terra series. The gallery will host an opening reception for the artist on Thursday, September 6, from 6 to 8 PM at 501 West 24th Street. 

Liza Lou’s sculptures, room-size installations, and performances have broken boundaries between art and craft, sculpture and painting since the unveiling of Kitchen (1991–1996) at the New Museum in New York in 1996. Eschewing the well-traveled path in art school to pursue a self-guided exploration of more traditional media like painting and sculpture, Lou forged an original vision. A life-size replica of a kitchen in the midst of a museum gallery would hardly cause a stir, were it not for the fact that the work, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is made entirely of glass beads. In the years since, Lou’s work has continued to break boundaries as it has developed from room-size tableaux taken from everyday life—such as Backyard (1996–1999) and Trailer (1998–2000)—and works no less monumental yet distinctly more sober in their themes, such as Security Fence (2005) and Cell (2004-2006), to her recent abstract sculptures and wall reliefs. Throughout these shifts in her practice, process, labor, and beauty are always inextricably linked to the meaning of the work. 

The title of the exhibition is inspired by amateur meteorologist Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds, which met with great acclaim when it was presented as a lecture in 1802. The poet Mark Strand recently wrote, “Clouds are thoughts without words,” yet Howard was able to give names to the ungraspable. By classifying and naming the clouds, he influenced painters and poets alike. Observing daily atmospheric phenomena in the two cities where the artist divides her time—Durban, South Africa, where clouds are often tumultuous, and Los Angeles, where skies are mostly blue—Lou began to make cloud paintings en plein air. This exhibition features the resulting monumentally scaled work, The Clouds (2015–2018), recently exhibited in the 21st Biennale of Sydney. Stretching 50 feet across by 23 feet high in Lehmann Maupin’s new gallery space, The Clouds is comprised of a grid of 600 beaded cloths, which are hand sewn in her Durban studio. These cloths become the surface upon which the artist paints and then partially smashes the beads away with a hammer, revealing the paint-stained network of thread beneath. The materiality of the cloths is in stark contrast with the groundlessness of passing clouds.

Transformation and mutability, which is the essential nature of clouds, unfolds as the underlying theme for other works in the exhibition. For example, in Nacreous  (2018), Lou paints over the surface of the beads, and then layers additional woven cloths with the beads crushed away atop the painted forms, creating a sfumato effect with hazy skeins. In Nimbostratus  (2018), Lou utilizes a grid pattern and glass cloths to different effect. Here, she applies thick oil paint to 16 glass bead-woven panels, then hangs them reversed to reveal the cloud-like stains and discoloration, which is the result of chemical oxidation of the paint on the silver-lined glass. 

The exhibition also includes a series of sculpture and wall reliefs where Lou challenges the limitations of her chosen material. Glass beads are typically limited by monochrome color and uniformity, inviting repetitive weaving patterns, however, Lou developed a technique using different sizes of spheres sewn together into complex, cell-like structures. These organic, impasto-paint-like forms, in works such as Pyroclastic (2018) and Primary (2018), are thus built by accretion, evoking multiform natural phenomena.

There are two large-scale examples of Lou’s drawing practice, which have taken more than 11 years to complete. Lou considers the smooth, gessoed canvases upon which she draws to be instruments; as each mark is made, it is accompanied by an audible sound from the artist, which varies from a mantra-like drone to gospel-like euphoric whoops and groans. The lower-level gallery of Lehmann Maupin will be dedicated to Drawing Instrument (2018), a video in which layered recordings of many days of drawing and singing are compiled into a complex and haunting audio/visual remix, in which she captures each small circular mark she makes while singing the word “oh” over and over again. Falling just short of the mantra “om,” “oh” repeats the o-like shape she is drawing, and it is also an exclamation between certainty and uncertainty, which lies at the heart of all art processes.

A catalogue with an essay by independent Los Angeles-based curator Jenelle Porter and designed by Conny Purtill of Purtill Family Business will accompany the exhibition.

About the artist
Liza Lou  (b. 1969, New York; lives and works in Los Angeles) has had solo exhibitions of her work organized at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY (2015); Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2013); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2011); Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Germany (2011); Bass Museum of Art, Miami (2001); and Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH (2000). Select group exhibitions featuring her work include SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium & Engagement, 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018); Screen: Virtual Material, DeCordova Sculpture and Park Museum, Lincoln, MA; (2018); All things being equal…, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Cape Town, South Africa (2017); Beyond Boundaries: Feminine Forms, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Women’s Work, National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa; Home Land Security, FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco (2016); Sleight of Hand: Painting and Illusion, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2014); The Artist’s Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2010); and Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection, curated by Jeff Koons, New Museum, New York (2010). Her work is in numerous international public and private collections, including the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; de Young Museum, San Francisco; François Pinault Foundation, Palazzo Grassi, Venice; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Lou is the recipient of the 2013 Anonymous Was a Woman Award and a 2002 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Lehmann Maupin at 501 West 24th Street
The new location of Lehmann Maupin in Chelsea, with a primary entrance on West 24th Street, encompasses 8,500 square feet spread across three floors and is located on the corner of West 24th Street and Tenth Avenue in the former home of the Getty Gas Station. It is adjacent to the landmark High Line park, a destination for innovative landscape design and site-specific art installations. The interior is designed by architect Peter Marino with column-free ground floor exhibition spaces, an abundance of natural light coming through overhead skylights, and ceiling heights up to 23 feet. The additional floors of the gallery feature exhibition spaces, private viewing rooms, and offices. The Hill Art Foundation will occupy the two floors directly above Lehmann Maupin.

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Liza Lou


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