Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Museum Vist: Chakaia Booker at the Kemper Museum

Black rubber tires sized for all manner of car, truck, bike and other conveyances are the medium artist Chakaia Booker has worked in almost exclusively since the early 1990's. This past weekend I visited the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri and saw Booker's exhibit.

I happened to be in town and didn't have any pre-conceived ideas about Chakaia Booker's work. I'd never seen it before. Not because she's not well known, but because I dropped my subscription to the art magazines. (Maybe I'll start up again.)

The first thing I noticed were the sensual textures and engaging shapes of her sculptures along with the strong scent of industrial rubber tires. I don't particularly like the scent, so the combination of the odor with the pleasing visuals was interesting. Overall the feeling of Booker's work for me is sensual, thoughtful, loving and sometimes (just a little) disgusting in a visceral, gooey way that is curiously friendly. Her large hanging chandelier-like sculpture is the piece I'm thinking of that fits the visceral-gooey description. Seeing the graceful beauty of bird shapes and candles under the gooey blackness I thought of both the Adam's Family comedy (the chandelier would be great over the Adam's table) and the havoc left behind by the Exxon Valdez. I appreciate the emotional resonance of that piece -- it was quite beautiful.

The exhibit includes about 20 sculptures completed during the past 7 years. Here's an excerpt from exhibit pamphlet describing her work:

"Through a physically demanding process of slicing, twisting and weaving found rubber (primarily from bikes, cars and farm equipment), she forms dynamic, whimsical sculptures that fuse ecological concerns with questions about racial, and economic differences, globalization, and existing sociopolitical power structures."

See more of Chakaia Booker's work on her website at

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