September 25, 2023


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Sanford Biggers Cracks the Code of Quilts

LOUISVILLE, KY — Billed as a “survey of quilt-based works,” Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch at the Pace Art Museum feels significantly less like an overview of 1 specific segment of the multidisciplinary artist’s oeuvre and more like a file of his imaginative procedure in general — tactile proof of the evolution of inventive thoughts fields of desire that have held his fascination visual motifs that have appeared, in different guises and permutations, in the course of his career. The present includes 33 quilt works dating from 2012 to 2020 (the catalogue paperwork an outstanding complete of 100 such items), alongside with two movie performs from 2000 and 2014.

Biggers, who is identified for sculpture, online video, set up, songs, and general performance, started the Codex collection in 2009, soon after he was gifted about 50 19th-century American quilts in varying degrees of disrepair. These common with his inventive output will recognize some of his other artworks in their quilted counterparts: “Blossom Study” (2014), a sq. quilt of smaller, hexagonal patchwork onto which he has painted the outline of a grand piano bursting with bouquets, is a sketch of his 2007 sculptural and seem installation “Blossom,” in which he fused an 18-foot-tall replica of a tree with the belly of a grand piano, its unattended keys participating in his recording of “Strange Fruit.”

Sanford Biggers, “Blossom Study” (2014), antique quilt, assorted textiles, acrylic, spray paint, 86 1/2  x 84 1/2 inches (photo © Sanford Biggers and Baldwin Gallery, courtesy the artist and Baldwin Gallery, Aspen)

Comparable surrogates are current, this sort of as “Floral Seated Warrior” (2017), a portrait-oriented quilt of chunky gray and beige blocks with a blue, floral-print silhouette of Biggers’s “BAM (Seated Warrior)” sculpture (2017). Representations of “Lotus” (2007) — his flower fashioned from repetitions of a slave ship diagram — and the wide, legendary red lips of “Cheshire” (2008) surface routinely. “Incognito” (2014), for instance, is a square piece composed of bow-tie sections of two unique quilts, a cacophony of sample and shade onto which Biggers has additional the smudged define of a Cheshire grin, its sly smile slightly hidden under improvised dashes of gold, blue, orange, pink, and lavender paint. The prospers are, perhaps, vestiges of the artist’s graffiti days (Biggers grew up in Los Angeles, where by he participated in the street art scene). As with all his embellishments, they impart a new and distinct layer of which means to the antique quilts.

That Biggers is operating with quilts is substantial, as they are, by definition, layered objects — most normally, a piece of batting sandwiched in between two parts of material and stitched with each other. When he very first commenced the Codex series, he was intrigued by the contested legend that quilts had been used as coded objects to information these escaping slavery in the southern United States by way of the Underground Railroad. In the artist’s fingers, the quilts develop into palimpsests: historical messages reanimated as a result of the addition of modern signifiers, symbols, and codes, these kinds of as graffiti.

Sanford Biggers, “Floral Seated Warrior” (2017), antique quilt, assorted textiles, burnt cork, 71 x 39 inches (image © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist andMarianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

A codex, the earliest sort of the modern-day ebook, was also held alongside one another by stitching, and enabled a quantum leap ahead, knowledge-clever, by enabling random accessibility to reference content, versus the sequential entry expected by a scroll. In a lot of methods, Codeswitch looks to celebrate and revel in awareness, its references revealing a voracious, eclectic, and frequently mischievous intellect. Motifs have double meanings (a Cheshire grin remembers both of those a 19th-century English novel and an American blackface minstrel show a tree signifies the two enlightenment and lynchings) titles consist of intelligent puns (“Big Dada”), witty wordplay (“Kubrick’s Rube”), and other shibboleths of a highly uncovered and cultured brain (“Quo Vadis” “Chorus for Paul Mooney”) visible influences incorporate these kinds of a motley crew as Hiroshige, Sigmar Polke, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Within a subset of performs, Biggers trades his acquainted visible lexicon for a far more arduous exploration of abstraction and a deeper engagement with the quilt designs. In “Tyranny of Mirrors” (2017), he parts jointly segments of three diverse quilts, each and every showcasing a very similar hexagonal sample, with a silver-leaf sample that seems to recede into house, as if the viewer is searching into a corridor of mirrors. The influence, not compared with op-artwork, is mesmerizing. In “Transition” (2018) and the onomatopoeically named “Ooo Oui” (2017), he incorporates sequins into equivalent abstract constructions with even additional bedazzling success.

Sanford Biggers, “Tyranny of Mirrors” (2017), antique quilt, assorted textiles, silver leaf, 73 x 75 inches (photo © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

In one more subseries, Biggers honors the trompe-l’oeil aspirations held by some quilt makers by adhering sections of material to geometric shapes produced of plywood, which he joins to compose wall-mounted sculptures that resemble large origami constructions. “Reconstruction” (2019), with its triangular panels of fabric that include the United States flag, calls to mind the rhythmic layering of triangles associated in folding a flag when viewed from a length, it also evokes that aged Cheshire smile, a visible wink as wry as the double entendre of the piece’s title.

Two online video will work spherical out the exhibition: the one-channel “Mandala of the B-Bodhisattva II” (2000) is projected on to a sq. monitor a little bit elevated from the ground, replicating the overhead view of a breakdance level of competition. The dancers are competing on a flooring that Biggers developed from slash linoleum segments in a circular pattern, prefiguring his quilting challenge. In viewing the breakdancers from above, the concentration moves from specific methods to the broader motion across the patterned flooring, a lot like the sewn lines that traverse a quilt’s pieced fabric. Seems of the cheering group mingle with the tunes, as if to affirm that what is sacred can also be celebratory. 

Sanford Biggers, “Moonrising,” element (2014), film transferred to video, run time: 7:35 min. (photograph © Sanford Biggers and Marianne Boesky Gallery, courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen and New York)

“Moonrising” (2014) is a seven-and-a-50 percent minute online video established to music by Biggers’s band, Moon Medicin, and attributes two Black men in a wooded location. They are variously bare robed in quilts, hoodies, or mantles of feathers (the artist’s 2006 “Ghettobird Tunic,” maybe?) or shirtless, carrying denims, golden masks, and baseball caps as they roam the woods. Sung lyrics allude to the legend of coded quilts primary enslaved people to independence. 

Whilst QR codes on the museum partitions give a glossary of themes, terms, and historical figures to support the interpretation of the quilted works, no supplemental prepared material is supplied for “Moonrising.” This follows the encounter in the United States, wherever anti-literacy laws prohibited the composed transmission of awareness among the enslaved people today, but they could change to the oral traditions of West African griots to express facts.

In reconnecting quilts with the human body and their primal goal of bestowing warmth and security, “Moonrising” looks to eschew mental information for that which can only be recognised by means of working experience. As viewers, we might not have all the codes to interpret the a number of conceptual layers of the quilted will work, but we can enjoy men functioning as a result of the woods, concealed in quilts, prior to unfurling them in an open up industry, and arrive closer to comprehending the tremendous worry and danger of escape, as properly as its prospective for impressive flexibility.

Sanford Biggers, “Incognito” (2014), antique quilt, assorted textiles, acrylic, spray paint, oil adhere, glitter, 45 x  45 inches (photograph © Sanford Biggers and David Castillo Gallery, courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery, Miami)

Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch proceeds at the Velocity Art Museum (2035 South 3rd Street, Louisville, Kentucky) by means of June 26. The exhibition was co-organized by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and Rivers Institute for Modern Artwork & Considered, and co-curated by Dr. Andrea Andersson and Antonio Sergio Bessa.