press release

Petah Coyne: Above and Beneath the Skin will premiere at SculptureCenter and Galerie Lelong and tour to four other US venues. It is organized by Douglas Dreishpoon, Senior Curator, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

Few contemporary artists possess Petah Coyne's ability to transform quotidian matter into works of resolute poetry. Combining both figurative and abstract traditions and deploying a diverse range of materials, her sculptures constitute a complex language -- decidedly individualistic and yet surprisingly accessible. She has persistently transformed spaces into palpable environments, each context determining the work's dynamics -- its character, associations, and metaphorical significance. Coyne's work first came to public attention in the fall of 1987, with a full-scale environment installed at the SculptureCenter's former gallery on East 69th Street in Manhattan. There, during the down days of summer, she reconfigured an otherwise ordinary white cube into a fantastic world of natural forms, an enchanted forest of signs. Over the course of sixteen years, she has maintained a protean pace, constantly challenging herself to engage varied spaces and to experiment with new media. A short list of materials used between 1985 and 2004 -- wood, hay, soil, tar, chicken wire, black sand, white powder, silk flowers, wax, dry wall, religious statues, taxidermy, hair, ribbons, bird cages, and other found objects -- confirms the extent to which experimentation drives her sculptural ethos, as documented in her exhibition history by an ever-changing roster of materials and forms.

Following her debut at the SculptureCenter, over the next ten years, she created compelling installations for the Whitney Museum of American Art at Equitable Center (1987), the Brooklyn Museum and Jack Shainman Gallery (both 1989), and the Southeastern Massachusetts University Art Gallery (1991). In 1992 the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art organized the first traveling survey of her work from 1989 to 1991. In 1994, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, she premiered her first wax works, and two years later she altered a classical space at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington with a dense forest of delicate and massive chandelier-like sculptures. In 1999, Fairy Tales, an exhibition of taxidermy, woven and dyed horse hair and statuary, transformed the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland, into a dark and brooding landscape of morbid beauty and transcendence. More recently, White Rain (2001), a reference to the black rain that marked Hiroshima's victims, transformed the neutral space of a New York gallery into another tangle of signs and images, likened by many views to a space of mourning and vulnerability. As different as each body of work appears, together they share central and dialectic experiences, the precariousness of human existence, and the poignant proximity of beauty to decay, of death to life. These contradictions -- the essence of Coyne's work -- inform everything she does, including her work in photography. A mature artist open to a continuing and surprising evolution, Coyne is at a notable point in her career. This nineteen-year traveling survey, encompassing all phases of her development, includes significant pieces from the late 1980s and early 1990s, two wax chandeliers, two hair works from Fairy Tales, two wax personages from the White Rain installation, and two more recent sculptures: Daphne (2002-03) and Life Interrupted (1997-2004).

Eight black and white photographs spanning a nine-year period from 1992 to 2001 will complement the sculptural ensemble. Coyne's early art training included courses in photography and printmaking at the Art Academy of Cincinnati during the mid-1970s, and she graduated with a double major in both media. Photography remained a passing interest for years, secondary to sculpture until 1992, when she reconnected with it while traveling in Japan. Since then she has generated a steady stream of impressive images distinct for their abstraction, phenomenological orientation, and emotional impact. Photography is Coyne's way of processing information and recording sensation. Rather than draw to investigate and stockpile ideas, she deploys custom-rigged cameras and pinhole lenses -- the equivalent of a diary or sketchpad.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a substantive publication that documents the full range of Coyne's achievements to date. Interpretative essays by organizing curator Douglas Dreishpoon, critics Eleanor Heartney and Nancy Princenthal, will address the work's development from various perspectives. The catalogue, designed by Studio Blue and distributed by D.A.P., will also include a selected exhibition history and bibliography.


Petah Coyne: Above and Beneath the Skin