Born 1970, Bronx, New York; lives in Los Angeles, California

Kori Newkirk makes multimedia paintings, sculptural installations, and photographs that explore the formal properties of materials, the politics of identity, and the artist’s personal history. Although cultural references emerge in his recurring use of pomade and plastic pony beads, both used to style black hair, as well as the color white, with its connotations of race and pristine environments, the symbolic possibilities of these elements are always matched by their formal elegance.

The World and the Way Things Are (2001) is a curtain of glossy multicolored pony beads strung along strands of braided synthetic hair suspended close together from a thin strip of metal installed against the wall. The beads are arranged in a pattern that depicts two ranch houses along a cul-de-sac in a typical suburban neighborhood. The suburban portrayal is further emphasized by the curtain’s resemblance to the beaded room dividers popular in the 1970s. While easily discernible from a distance, the curtain’s image breaks down into sculptural abstraction upon closer viewing. Straddling media as well as references to black and white culture, the work combines allusions to blackness with images of a presumably white American landscape, embodying Newkirk’s experience as a black child growing up in a predominantly white rural area in upstate New York. Glint (2005), a four-sided curtain of nighttime scenes from both urban and suburban settings, is suspended from the ceiling, allowing the viewer to circumnavigate the form. The ability of these works to be recognized, all at once, as painting and sculpture, representation and abstraction, reveals the complex territory in which Newkirk’s art operates, where stereotypes can be shattered as easily as parting a curtain.

In a series of untitled wall drawings he completed for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland in 2004, Newkirk used pomade to shape enlarged imprints of his fingerprints across the walls of the gallery. This marker of identity was rendered black against the stark white walls, creating a surface of convergence for race, identity, color, and the body. The color white moves from the background to the foreground in a series of installations Newkirk began making in 2003. For one exhibition, he covered the gallery floor with a thick dusting of artificial snow. Dozens of small great white sharks were sculpted in encaustic and embedded in a back wall in the formation of a giant snowflake, while an 8-foot-long white fiberglass shark rested on the floor, its mouth open to reveal a set of teeth made of glass icicles. The overt reference to “white” is thus tangled with notions of purity, coldness, isolation, menace, and beauty in a landscape emblematic, for Newkirk, of all the “whiteness” that endangers him.

...read more about this artist in the Biennial Catalogue

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Glint, 2005. Artificial hair, pony beads, aluminum, and dye, 92 x 84 x 48 in. (233.7 x 213.4 x 121.9 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego