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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Why artist Sanford Biggers remixes different art forms and styles to express himself


Judy WoodruffSanford Biggers is an artist who mixes media and pushes boundaries to create his own art.

Jeffrey Brown reviews his interdisciplinary work with a focus on Fool’s Folly signature work for our Canvas art and culture series.

Jeffrey Brown: On the walls are 20th century patchwork quilts that have become recognized by masters of art, on the floor is a new work using the same patterns, but in a different art form, the Buddhist sand mandala.

It is literally made of sand.

Sanford Biggers, artist: Colored sand, yes, loose, on the floor.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Sanford Biggers: We’re sneezing now, this thing is gone.


Jeffrey Brown: No sneeze, but plenty of riffs in Sanford Biggers’ art that is now on display in the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. For the current project, which the museum calls Crossroads, he created a sculpture that reproduces sculptures already in the museum’s collection by artists such as Picasso and Giacometti.

But his marble bust is a hybrid figure, with a classic Greek image of a woman in the back, and an original African chokwe mask in the front.

Sanford BiggersA: I bring these two together to create a kind of conceptual dialogue. I see this as the ancestor of modern aesthetics.

And we are talking about the classical form and the non-classical form, but I think we went through that. I believe it is a classic European shape and a classic African shape.

Jeffrey Brown: Now what when you put them together?

Sanford Biggers: Now it is contemporary art.

Jeffrey BrownBiggers, now 51, finds and creates his art in many places, including with his experimental band Moon Medicin, where as much art happens as musical performance takes place.

And he uses the language of modern music, such as hip-hop sampling, to describe his own approach to creating art from different traditions, what he calls material storytelling.

Sanford Biggers: So how do you sample it, reshape it, distort it, put it back together, insert it with something else to create a new work?

I think objects evoke memories. I think the object evokes certain memories and certain narratives, and when they are juxtaposed with other objects, it creates more complex narratives.

Jeffrey BrownHe did it on a massive scale, publicly earlier this year with a series at New York’s Rockefeller Center, another remix using classical sculptures that were themselves brightly painted themselves.

And he does it in a more intimate way thanks to his interest in textiles, especially vintage quilts. A traveling exhibit called Codeswitch is currently housed at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

Sanford BiggersA: I started painting and interfering with these vintage quilts and began to see it as a kind of intergenerational communication, between generations.

Jeffrey Brown: It all started with the theory that patchwork quilts were used as signposts on the Underground Railroad to give coded instructions for the escape of enslaved people. The theory was never definitively proven, but Bigger liked the idea behind it.

Sanford Biggers: I thought okay, what if these codes hold? What then would it mean for me to come 100 years later or, nevertheless, many years later and add another layer of code to them?

So in that sense, I started to collaborate late with the original creators of the patchwork quilt.

Jeffrey BrownA: Regarding the now famous Gee’s Bend quilts, there is no painting or rework, so the collaboration is different.

Female: You must have a mind made of a piece of a quilt, because if you don’t have a mind made of a piece of that quilt, it will never go right.

Jeffrey BrownA: In 2003, I had the opportunity to visit a small isolated community in Alabama in Jees Bend, where generations of women have been creating patchwork quilts of unusual designs, shapes and colors by folding uneven strips of fabric.

The blankets have been compared to modernist abstract paintings and have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York and across the country. One person who then saw the blankets on display was Sanford Biggers. Now, the Phillips Collection, which owns five Gee’s Bend quilts, wanted Biggers to research and refer to them through their own work.

Sanford Biggers: The first thing I see is the rhythm.

Jeffrey Brown: Movement through color and …

Sanford BiggersA: Yes, there is a type of retinal stimulation that occurs when you look at them, and this is one of the hallmarks of a well-composed picture, how the eye can move and dance around it. And they do it immediately.

Jeffrey Brown: Biggers constructed a three-dimensional sculpture from a patchwork quilt and, after studying Buddhist culture in Japan, decided to find his rhythm in a painting from a sand mandala quilt.

He was helped by museum workers trained to work with this unusual installation. Add it up and it’s a never-ending game, especially when you’ve got all of the art history to play with.

Sanford Biggers: I think this is again what artists are doing. The trick is to find your voice in it. But within the limits of possibilities, how to find a voice and what do you say with that voice?

Jeffrey Brown: Did you find him?

Sanford Biggers: I have several voices.


Sanford Biggers: I have a chorus.

Jeffrey Brown: The Sanford Biggers Code Switch Exhibit runs in Los Angeles until January 23, before moving to the Louisville Speed ​​Museum in mid-March. His work in Washington DC will be on display until January 9th.

For PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown of the Phillips Collection.

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