Kaari Upson, Kunsthalle Basel

Kaari Upson. Photo: Dominik Asche/Kunsthalle Basel

 

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.

 

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Subsequent bodies of work, which likewise wove together reality and fantasy, include her celebrated sculptures made of silicone, latex, urethane and fiberglass, cast from mattresses, sofas and other domestic objects and painted in a range of vivid tones; as well as MMDP (My Mother Drinks Pepsi) (2014–17) inspired by Upson’s mother who enjoyed a Pepsi every day. MMDP comprises complex sculptures made of Pepsi cans reminiscent of ancient artifacts—an effect created by filling the empty soda containers with liquid aluminum so that their surface looks charred—as well as videos that feature the artist among the aisles of Costco megastores where her mother shopped. Throughout these projects, drawings often provided the springboard for accompanying sculptural works. Large-scale and reminiscent of detailed journals, Upson’s drawings are filled with precisely rendered images and text, and they often took years to complete as the artist repeatedly returned to them to add visual, temporal and intellectual layers to their lush surfaces.

The scale and ambition of Upson’s projects steadily expanded over the course of her career, culminating in room-sized installations blending set-like structures, sculptures, performative videos and sound. For the 2019 Venice Biennale, she recreated her mother’s childhood dollhouse and that of a friend by enlarging them to over-life-size scale. The resulting installation, There is No Such Thing as Outside (2017–19), offered a meditation on the self and the other and the insistent pull of nostalgia. Upson’s exhibition Go Back the Way You Came at Kunsthalle Basel (2019) similarly transformed the exhibition space into a weighty, multi-partite homage to another loaded object: the felled tree outside her childhood home. In both bodies of work, disquieting videos feature performances by the artist and a second woman, each made up to approximate each other’s faces, as they compulsively repeat fragments of speech and revisit repressed memories and traumas.

Overall, Upson’s work considers the overlaps, fissures and disjunctions between our interior worlds and exterior reality, not just conceptually, but also through her embodied process of casting, “skinning” and inverting objects. Embracing quasi-archaeological, forensic strategies, the artist created uncanny, layered scenarios with the power to surface repressed desires and memories—both personal and collective—with unexpected force. Her work evokes radically destabilized subjects and presents a critical portrait of late-capitalist American culture with its many fetishes, obsessions, neuroses and repressed fantasies.

 

Kaari Upson: Go Back The Way You Came
Kunsthalle Basel, August 30–November 10, 2019

 

Announcing Global Representation of her Trust

 

Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson in her Los Angeles studio, 2011

Sprüth Magers is honored to announce its global representation of The Kaari Upson Trust, working with the artist’s estate to support her legacy in the years to come. The influence of her haunting sculptures, paintings, drawings, installations and videos continues to reverberate through contemporary art practice despite her death in August 2021 at the age of 51. Through forthcoming exhibitions and projects, Sprüth Magers looks forward to this partnership and to sharing Upson’s work with audiences across the world.

Click here to read the full announcement

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Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson in her Los Angeles studio, 2011

Sprüth Magers is honored to announce its global representation of The Kaari Upson Trust, working with the artist’s estate to support her legacy in the years to come. The influence of her haunting sculptures, paintings, drawings, installations and videos continues to reverberate through contemporary art practice despite her death in August 2021 at the age of 51. Through forthcoming exhibitions and projects, Sprüth Magers looks forward to this partnership and to sharing Upson’s work with audiences across the world.

Click here to read the full announcement

Works
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
HD film, color, with sound
15:49 min

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Medium-density fiberboard, acrylic, and oil paint
53.3 × 30.5 × 38.7 cm
21 × 12 × 15 1/4 inches

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Stump, 2017–19

Kaari Upson
Stump, 2017–19
Aqua resin
154.9 × 190.5 × 177.8 cm
61 × 75 × 70 inches

Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
seven, 2019

Kaari Upson
seven, 2019
Urethane, wood and pigment
One work comprised of seven components
Dimensions variable

Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Silicone, pigment, nylon and fiberglass
200.7 × 154.9 × 22.9 cm
79 × 61 × 9 inches

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18
Graphite and ink on paper
362 × 184.2 cm
142 1/2 × 72 1/2 inches

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
In Search of the Perfect Double (I), 2016

Kaari Upson
In Search of the Perfect Double (I), 2016
Urethane, pigment and aluminum
200.7 × 78.7 × 193 cm
79 × 31 × 76 inches

Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Aluminum, stainless steel and powder-coated steel
130 × 164 × 13 cm
51 1/8 × 64 5/8 × 5 1/8 inches

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
HD video, color, with sound
9:06 min

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Site-specific installation, video, MDF, resin, silicone, urethane, pine wood, plywood, aqua resin, pigment, spray paint, foam, steel, aluminum and plaster
Dimensions variable

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Urethane and pigment
83.8 × 83.8 × 167.6 cm
33 × 33 × 66 inches

More views
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
4-channel video installation, color, with sound
32:19 min

More views
Details
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
HD film, color, with sound
15:49 min

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Medium-density fiberboard, acrylic, and oil paint
53.3 × 30.5 × 38.7 cm
21 × 12 × 15 1/4 inches

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Stump, 2017–19
Aqua resin
154.9 × 190.5 × 177.8 cm
61 × 75 × 70 inches

Kaari Upson
Stump, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
seven, 2019
Urethane, wood and pigment
One work comprised of seven components
Dimensions variable

Kaari Upson
seven, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Silicone, pigment, nylon and fiberglass
200.7 × 154.9 × 22.9 cm
79 × 61 × 9 inches

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18
Graphite and ink on paper
362 × 184.2 cm
142 1/2 × 72 1/2 inches

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18 (detail)

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18 (detail)

Kaari Upson
PARTICULAR KIND OF GUILT, 2012–18
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
In Search of the Perfect Double (I), 2016
Urethane, pigment and aluminum
200.7 × 78.7 × 193 cm
79 × 31 × 76 inches

Kaari Upson
In Search of the Perfect Double (I), 2016
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Aluminum, stainless steel and powder-coated steel
130 × 164 × 13 cm
51 1/8 × 64 5/8 × 5 1/8 inches

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015 (detail)

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015 (detail)

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015 (detail)

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
HD video, color, with sound
9:06 min

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Site-specific installation, video, MDF, resin, silicone, urethane, pine wood, plywood, aqua resin, pigment, spray paint, foam, steel, aluminum and plaster
Dimensions variable

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19 (detail)

Kaari Upson
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OUTSIDE, 2017–19
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Urethane and pigment
83.8 × 83.8 × 167.6 cm
33 × 33 × 66 inches

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
4-channel video installation, color, with sound
32:19 min

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016 (installation view)

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson, Charcoal Tablet 15 (Head and Knees), 2011
© The Kaari Upson Trust. Courtesy SFMOMA

Shifting the Silence
Group Exhibition
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Through September 5, 2022

Shifting the Silence features dynamic works by thirty-two women artists who use the radical language of abstraction to enhance our understanding of the world we inhabit. Named after artist Etel Adnan’s 2020 book about history and existence, the exhibition embraces experimentation, impermanence, and subjectivity—bold yet poetic characteristics that mark the art of our time. Shifting the Silence harnesses the artists' defiant, yet enlightened energy to explore visual culture, the motivations of its practitioners, and its varied influences. This experiential exhibition of art produced over the last quarter-century includes sculpture, photography, textile, video, painting, and time-based installation.

Link

everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt
Group Exhibition
Henry Art Gallery, Seattle
June 2022–January 2023

This exhibition of moving image installations, drawn from the Henry collection, spans a wide range of style and conceptual approaches. The title, a satirical and yet deeply moving line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, references a common thread running throughout the exhibition—the frailty, trauma, loss, and cruelty of the human condition that nonetheless is girded by an irrepressible desire for beauty, love, and connection. This exhibition inclues the work of Rashid Johnson, Kaari Upson, Lutz Bacher, Sue DeBeer, and Candice Breitz, among others.

Link
Kaari Upson Estate
Kaari Upson, Split Eye, 2012–17 (video still)
© The Kaari Upson Trust
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Kaari Upson Estate

Kaari Upson
MMDP
November 22, 2016–January 14, 2017
Berlin

MMDP is Kaari Upson’s first solo exhibition with the gallery and her first in Germany. Upson’s practice is rooted in the question of contamination, unearthing the space between the self and the other, the indeterminable zone of "both." By investigating the domestic environment, Upson presents the wealth of emotional material that a familiar object or space can contain, exude, and expel; we leak all over our things, and they, in turn, leak their thingness back onto us.

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Press

Close-Up: Family Resemblance
Artforum, article by Michael Ned Holte, April 2022

In Her Last Works, Kaari Upson Explores Vanity and Decay
The New York Times, article by Jori Finkel, March 18, 2022

Kaari Upson (1970–2021)
Artforum, article by Audrey Wollen, October 1, 2021

Kaari Upson, California Artist of Desire and Disturbance, Dies at 51
The New York Times, article by Jason Farago, August 20, 2021

A Tribute to Kaari Upson (1970–2021)
Frieze, article by Jonathan Griffin, August 19, 2021

Ich vertraue meinen Instinkten
Kunstforum International, interview by Michael Stoeber, January–February 2020

Kaari Upson. Door, Open, Shut
ArtReview, review by Raimar Stange, December 2019

I am Asking What It Is Not
Mousse, artist feature by Kaari Upson, Summer 2019

A White Picket Fence, Open Floor Plan, Traumatic Imprinting
Flaunt, feature by Shana Nys Dambrot, Spring 2019

An Interview with Kaari Upson
Even, interview by Jason Farago, Summer 2016

Female Genius: Kaari Upson
Topical Cream, article by Katya Tylevich, January 12, 2016

Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.
Flash Art, interview by Douglas Fogle, January–February 2014

Biography

Kaari Upson (1970–2021). Solo shows include Deste Foundation, Athens (forthcoming 2022), Kunsthalle Basel (2019), Kunstverein Hannover (2019), New Museum, New York (2017) and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2007). Recent and forthcoming group exhibitions include Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2022), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2022), Cleveland Museum of Art (2021), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2021), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2020), 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (2019), Aspen Art Museum (2019), Marta Herford Museum, Herford, Germany (2018), 15th Istanbul Biennial (2017), 2017 Whitney Biennial, Aïshti Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon (2015-16), The High Line, New York (2015), Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2015), Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2014), CAPC Musée d’art contemporain, Bordeaux, France (2014) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2013). Her work will also be included in The Milk of Dreams, the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (2022), curated by Cecilia Alemani.

Education
2007 MFA, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
2004 BFA, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
1998 New York Studio School, New York
Public Collections
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
CAPC Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Marta Herford Museum for Art, Architecture, Design, Herford, Germany
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands
Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation, Miami
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York