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Kathryn Spence: Short sharp notes, rolling or churring whistles, clear phrases

Not on view
8/21/2010 - 12/12/2010
Organizing institution: Mills College Art Museum

Kathryn Spence: Short sharp notes, rolling or churring whistles, clear phrases features new work by the Bay Area artist, including large-scale sculptural installations and drawings inspired by the confluence of natural and urban environments. Spence’s sculptural objects are inspired by animals and nature but are composed from the discarded materials of the human world. Her work demonstrates an uncanny ability to capture the essence of animals without masking her found materials, applying a naturalist’s methods to urban detritus. Accumulated bits of fabric, thread, paper, and cardboard take on species-specific characteristics of songbirds, owls, and coyotes. Spence’s exhibition at the Mills College Art Museum will include new sculptural work that brings together many of the significant elements of her artistic practice. Spence collects humble, common materials--such as thread, old stuffed animals, fabric, images from birding field guides, and wire—that are carefully selected for their color, texture, and associations. She then uses the material to create meticulously stacked and organized accumulations that are both a monument to the impulse to organize and a method of rehabilitating materials that have been cast aside by a consumer society. Drawing plays an important role in Spence’s work and the exhibition includes a large floor-based work on paper that expands the artist’s use of drawing in both scale and concept. A collage of abstract color imagery, the piece demonstrates Spence’s accumulative procedures deployed toward more formally abstract ends. Spence has described the objects she makes as dimensional drawings and her technique of accumulating, attaching, layering, and lining are the very procedures that animals use to build up their own nests and shelters. Spence’s installations emulate the living animals and other items and elements she observes in nature, and explore the disparity between the culture of the artificial and the untamed natural world that surrounds us.


Kathryn Spence lives and works in San Francisco, CA and received her MFA from Mills College in 1993. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions such as Leavings, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (2001) and Wild, The Kempner Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO (1999). Spence has presented in select group exhibitions, including Natural Blunders, de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA (2009); 48th Corcoran Biennial, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2005); Hard Candy, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA (2004); The Not-So-Still-Life: A Century of California Painting and Sculpture, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2003); Not So Cute & Cuddly: Dolls and Stuffed Toys in Contemporary Art, Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Kansas (2002); Skin Deep: Surface and Appearance in Contemporary Art, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel (1999); 1999 Biennial Exhibition, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (1999), Present Tense: Nine Artists in the Nineties, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (1997); and Bay Area Now, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA (1997). She has received numerous awards and artist residencies, including the Fleishhacker Foundation Fellowship and residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

Kathryn Spence: Short sharp notes, rolling or churring whistles, clear phrases has been supported by the Joan Danforth Art Museum Endowment.


Bird Walk with John Harris
September 25, 2010
10:00 am, Art Museum

Lecture by Kathryn Spence
October 13, 2010
7:00 pm, Danforth Lecture Hall, Art Building

Kathryn Spence in conversation with Stephanie Hanor
November 10, 2010
7:00 pm, Art Museum

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