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

 

Works
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019

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

More views
Kaari Upson
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
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
Kaari Upson
seven, 2019

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

Kaari Upson
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
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
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
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
Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019

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

More views
Kaari Upson
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
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
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

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

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
Night Splitter, 2019
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

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

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

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

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020

Kaari Upson
Oma (Blue eyes), 2020
Kaari Upson

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

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

Kaari Upson
seven, 2019
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16

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

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16

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

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

Kaari Upson
Aqua-Fresh, 2014–16
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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

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

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

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

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

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
Kaari Upson

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

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

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

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

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

Kaari Upson
My Mom Drinks Pepsi II, 2015
Kaari Upson

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

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019 (film still)

Kaari Upson
House Worry, 2019
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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
Kaari Upson

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

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
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014 (detail)

Kaari Upson
Cumulus Day, 2014
Kaari Upson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaari Upson
Recluse Brown, 2015/2016
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Kaari Upson
René Magritte, L'Esprit de géométrie, 1937
© The Estate of Magritte/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021

Mother!
Group Exhibition
Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim
October 1, 2021–February 6, 2022

In the international exhibition MOTHER!, Kunsthalle Mannheim in cooperation with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Arts shows how art has conveyed changing perceptions of motherhood from Old Masters and early avant-garde artists to the present day. Showing works ranging from Louise Bourgeois, Rineke Dijkstra, and Paula Modersohn-Becker to Yoko Ono, Pablo Picasso, and Egon Schiele to Kaari Upson, the show concentrates on the period when the feminist revolution challenged the traditional role assigned to women.

Link

Picturing Motherhood Now
Group Exhibition
Cleveland Museum of Art
Through March 13, 2022

Responding to our time, this exhibition brings together works by a diverse range of contemporary artists who reimagine the possibilities for representing motherhood. Drawing on a range of feminisms, it challenges familiar archetypes of motherhood, construing motherhood as a multivalent term. The artists in Picturing Motherhood Now use motherhood as a lens through which to examine contemporary social issues—the changing definitions of family and gender, the histories and afterlives of slavery, the legacies of migration, and the preservation of matrilineal Indigenous cultures.

Link
Kaari Upson
Kaari Upson, MMDP (Verbal magic), 2016
Installed in Picturing Motherhood Now, Cleveland Art Museum. Photo: Mark Meszoros
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Kaari Upson

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

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

The New Domestic Landscape
Kaleidoscope, essay by Franklin Melendez, Spring-Summer 2018

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 Kunsthalle Basel (2019), Kunstverein Hannover (2019), New Museum, New York (2017) and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2007). Recent group exhibitions include the 58th Venice Biennale (2019), 15th Istanbul Biennial (2017), 2017 Whitney Biennial, and others at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2021); Kunsthalle Mannheim (2020); Aspen Art Museum (2019); Marta Herford Museum, Herford, Germany (2018); Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles, CA (2016); Aïshti Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon (2015-16); The High Line, New York, NY (2015); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO (2015); Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL (2015); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2014); CAPC Musée d’art contemporain, Bordeaux, France (2014); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2013); and SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM (2010).

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
CAPC Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar
Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation, Miami
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York