Tonight, Tuesday March 8th at 6pm, SAIC alum Kori Newkirk is lecturing as part of the Visiting Artist Program. I first met Kori in Los Angeles when he was included in an exhibition of emerging Los Angeles artists that I co-curated at the Hammer Museum. Since then, he’s gone on to exhibit his art internationally, and was the subject of 10 year survey curated by Thelma Golden at The Studio Museum in Harlem in late 2007. Kori continues to live and work in Los Angeles. In thinking about the questions I wanted to ask him, I found myself most interested in finding out how Kori’s practice has developed “post-emergence.” Kori has always been fearless about charting new directions in his work, and I was curious to learn more about his experience of that category-defying space between “emerging” and “midcareer.”
Claudine Isé: What do you have planned for your SAIC lecture?
Kori Newkirk: Well, I have to say that question has been almost keeping me awake nights for some time now. It seems like I’ve been talking about what I do for so long now, and honestly it’s getting to feel a little dusty…so I’m trying to figure out how I can change it up a bit. These days I’m more interested in what artists think about and how we think about things rather than just the classic “ …I made this and then I made this…’ type of lecture. Sometimes that can be so painful, on both ends. I’ve been leaning in the direction of talking a bit about my relationship with painting…since it was the department that I spent the most time in and that’s the department that brought me back, which is utterly fascinating to me. I’ll probably throw in some of the realities of what it means to do what I and we do…as well as some stories from my salad days in Chicago and beyond. It’s been 18 years since I graduated, but some things never change.
CI: You had a 10 year survey exhibition at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2008. I’m always curious about the impact that a survey or retrospective has on an artist personally, as well as in terms of his or her practice. Did working with Thelma Golden on that show change your ideas about your own work in any way? If so, how? I’m also curious about the knowledge you yourself may have gained from looking at your own survey – what was it like seeing a decade’s worth of your own work installed in one place for the first time? What pleased you? What surprised you?
KN: What an honor it was to work with Thelma Golden and the staff of the museum on the survey. I couldn’t have asked for someone more supportive and understanding of the nuances of my practice. Seeing a lot of things together really didn’t change the essential ideas I have about what and why I do what I do. It was amazing to see some of the earlier work again, as well as things that I never really got to spend quality time with before they left the studio. I’d say its like a mashup of a family reunion and your high school reunion, throw in a little rollercoaster ride, the best birthday ever, and a slight touch of fever and I think you get close to what was running through my mind. I will say that the show looked and felt very different in NY than it did in California, which I found interesting.
CI: Your sculptural objects and installations often rely on recognizable objects, some already culturally-charged, some more mundane. Some of your first widely-recognized works were the gorgeous “beaded curtains” made from colored pony beads strung in ways that created pictures when viewed at a distance, and broke up into abstraction when viewed up close. You also made striking wall drawings using hair pomade. These early works were spectacular and beautiful and to some degree recognizably iconic works by Kori Newkirk. I’m curious though, was it hard to “break away,” as it were, from the use of certain materials with which you had become so strongly associated? For all artists, it can be tempting to continue to make what everyone loves – but you’ve moved on. Was that difficult for you to do at the time, especially as a young emerging artist?
KN: Well the ‘break’ from that work, particularly the curtains, was always going to be there I think. I really never expected to only make one type of thing, I don’t think it’s in my nature. Some things come and go depending on what’s required (for the work) and what I’m interested in talking about at that time. I never want to just be ‘that bead boy’! That’s an important thing that I learned at SAIC, that it was totally ok not to have a singular/cohesive ‘body’ of work and that I could do whatever I wanted and needed to do. I work in service to the idea and not the medium. A very anti-romantic notion perhaps! Which of course has made an interesting practice and been good for my sanity and soul, but not always so great for the career.
CI: The Summer 2010 show you did at Country Club in Los Angeles looks like it was pretty amazing. For that project, you directly engaged the gallery’s modernist architecture (it’s housed in Rudolf Schindler’s 1934 Buck House). Can you talk about the work in that show a bit?
KN: I couldn’t turn down that house! My partner used to live in a Schindler apartment here in Los Angeles so I have some intimate knowledge of how a space like that can and can’t function and how I function in them as well, which I thought was far more important and interesting. It’s a very site-responsive show as compared to site specific. I’m only willing to say that it was important in the long range plans I have for myself…like the great white sharks I deployed earlier, one has to keep swimming or one dies.