Sadie Barnette, 2014–15 AIR
In the third of a series of three blog posts, Curatorial Intern Mallory Cohen writes about her studio visits with each of the current artists in residence. Read Mallory's previous posts here and here.
Sadie Barnette’s oeuvre isn’t based in a single medium; instead, it impressively covers photography, sculpture and everything in between. I was most drawn to her art featuring technology from years past—an antenna-bearing stereo, for instance, or a CD player with a plastic top— painted a pristine, futuristic white. Most of the sculptures feature geometric arrangements of soil: one machine rests on the ground, earth piled on its top. The dirt spills over the white box’s sides, creating the edges of a perfect square. In a play between nature and tech, Barnette’s works are as much odes to the machines of yesterday as they are relics of the future.
Barnette explores a number of themes in her artist statement, citing “glitter as hypnotic,” “the everyday as gold” and “the party.” In one of her works, Barnette assembled white frames against a wall in a haphazard pyramid formation. Each framed a piece of multicolored metallic paper, which reflected light onto the surrounding walls and floor. During our meeting, Barnette said that she likes to use frames not to confine, but to enhance her art. In this case, her work stands not as an assortment of framed works, but as sculpture in conversation with the surrounding space.
At the Studio Museum, Barnette has been expanding on similar themes. Now, she is working on a series of works on paper that focus on the horse racing industry. Barnette visited local racetracks in Southern California with her father as a child, and associates the industry with time spent with her family. Some of the works include newspaper horse racing sections. In one work, Barnette covers an entire page of newsprint with graphite, leaving behind simply a photo of a jockey on a horse. On another, she stencils the word “Go” across the page in a chunky, rounded font. The spaces between the letters have once again been colored in with graphite. The only glimpse of the original newsprint, which once featured lists of horse names and race times, is within the contours of the letters themselves.
Barnette harnesses everyday materials to continue to evoke the glitz of her earlier works. The graphite is shiny, calling to mind the gambling and potential for wealth associated with horse racing. Surrounded by a metallic field, the newspaper-print photos of horses somehow seem more glamorous. Meanwhile, the names of horses—such as “Always a Princess” and “Derby Kitten”—are fancifully written in cursive script and satisfyingly absurd. Barnette says that her work isn’t necessarily a critique, but a meditation on something “you love to hate.” Barnette ultimately takes horse racing’s glitzy absurdity and elevates it to become an entity in its own right. Or in the artist’s own words, to a point “where the fake is shinier than the real thing.”