Kaari Upson (1970–2021) worked in a wide array of media including sculpture, video, drawing and painting. For nearly two decades, she constructed a singular artistic universe that melded autobiographical and collective traumas, fears and fantasies and often illuminated what might be called “Americanness” or the “American psyche.” The Los Angeles-based artist’s artful conjuring of abject imagery targeted viewers’ psychological comfort zones, confronting them with visceral and affecting evocations of loss and instability.
The prodigious, media-spanning scope of Upson’s conceptual practice is evident even in her earliest body of work: The Larry Project (2005–12)—a vast compendium of drawings, sculptures, videos and performances—takes as its point of departure a clandestine visit to a burned-down house in her parents’ neighborhood in San Bernardino, the artist’s hometown. Though Upson never met the house’s former occupant (whom she later called “Larry”) she reconstructed the life she imagined he led, fueled by sex, wealth and fantasy, from the home furnishings, photographs and diaries he abandoned. In addition to paintings, sculptures and drawings—including a full-size “Larry” doll who makes regular appearances—Upson’s project comprised videos and installations in which the artist herself appears wearing homemade silicone prostheses of breasts and genitalia in a nod to her muse’s real-life visits to the Playboy Mansion.