Over the past three decades, the Californian artist Liz Larner pushes the boundaries of what constitutes sculpture. Early in her practice, the artist experimented with agar cultures, which she asked other artists to breathe on, then displayed the petri dishes as the bacteria grew, bloomed and died. .
Yes this can be a sculpture, there are really no limits. Larner has since proven it.
Working with materials ranging from the traditional – like bronze and steel – to the absurd – like eyelashes and volcanic ash – Larner’s sculptures also run the gambit. Some are jovial and eccentric; some are imposing and menacing. Right now at New York’s SculptureCenter, the largest survey of Larner’s work since 2001 is on view, titled “Liz Larner: Don’t put it back the way it was,including around thirty works spanning from 1987 to 2021.
The exhibition positions Larner’s work, which reflects the history of sculptural installation and experimentation, seen from both a social and gendered perspective – male artists dominate the post-minimal landscape of sculpture, which affected the critical reception of Larner’s work throughout his career. For Larner however, concerns with form, color and volume have always been at the forefront.
In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21 Extended Play Series in 2017 we have a window into how Larner approaches space in his discussion of Tony Smith’s geometric work Smoke (1967), previously installed in an atrium at LACMA. “It was almost like a dead space,” she says of LACMA’s atrium. “You would pass, from here to there. And bringing this incredible sculpture into space really changed it… Even if you have to rush through space, it’s still a great experience every time and from every angle.
The video also features Larner’s own work Carving 6 (2010), at the Art Institute of Chicago. It appears to be a simple shape, like two crossed designs of a three-dimensional box, painted in bright orange, white and lilac, but tilted to the side. It is very slightly offset, appearing to bend over itself like rubber, despite being steel.
“Color is such a big part of our perception” the artist tells Art21. “So to be able to use it as a material and make it work volumetrically – and not just graphically – is something very interesting to me.”
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “Liz Larner: Don’t Put It Back Onis on view at SculptureCenter, New York, through March 28, 2022.
This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new series of the Art21 association’s flagship series, Art in the Twenty-First Century, is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.