Tavares Strachan at 58th Venice Biennale (2019)


MULTIMEDIA ARTIST Tavares Strachan has joined Marian Goodman Gallery, the New York-based gallery with locations in Paris and London. Strachan’s artistic practice explores the intersections of art, science, and politics. He works across disciplines to surface unknown histories and investigate the nature of invisibility—why certain histories and cultures are privileged over others. He splits his time between New York and Nassau, Bahamas. The announcement was made this morning.

Strachan has built a unique conceptual practice over the past 14 years or so, expressing himself in a variety of mediums including sculpture, installations, collage paintings, and neon.

His practice is defined by ambitious, research-based projects. Two years ago, he launched a sculpture into space to bring attention to Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. (1935-1967), the first African American astronaut selected for a national space program.

The artist has also created his own encyclopedia, a six-year project. Leather-bound and 2,600 pages, “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility” (2018) contains thousands of entries devoted to marginalized people, place, and events.

Earlier in his practice, for a project called “The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (Arctic Ice Project)” (2004-06), Trachan used a four-and-a-half-ton block of ice to explore themes of “displacement and interdependency.”

Tavares Strachan’s artistic practice explores the intersections of art, science, and politics. He works across disciplines to surface unknown histories and investigate the nature of invisibility—why certain histories and cultures are privileged over others.

Collaborating with institutions and organizations, Strachan is interested in promoting what the gallery describes as “a broader and more inclusive understanding of the work of both artists, scientists, and the systems and support networks that make their work possible.”

Strachan is a 2019-20 artist-in-residence at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and was the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Allen Institute (2018). Founded by Paul G. Allen, the Seattle institute focuses on bioscience research. Strachan has also received many grants to support his work, including the 2014 LACMA Art + Technology Lab Artist Grant.

The LACMA grant enabled his ENOCH project dedicated to Lawrence, who died at age 32 during pilot training and never had the opportunity to travel into space. Strachan made a 24-carat gold, urn-like canopic jar topped with a bust of Lawrence and sent it into space on Dec. 3, 2018, aboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket to highlight the astronaut’s pioneering legacy.

The Frye Art Museum in Seattle presented a major solo exhibition of the artist’s work, earlier in the year. “Tavares Strachan: Always, Sometimes, Never” (Jan. 27-April 15, 2018) featured neon sculptures and 26 collage paintings dedicated to each letter of the alphabet and corresponding overlooked narratives (in the manner of entries from “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility”).

The works were on display amid pools of water. The concept drew on the nature of Seattle’s climate and environs—the city’s excessive rainfall and many waterways—as a symbolic gesture. Described by the museum, Strachan’s intent was to bring submerged histories to the surface and transform the gallery into a space of literal and intellectual reflection.

Recent group exhibitions include “Soft Power” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Oct. 26, 2019-Feb. 17, 2020), which was “about the ways in which artists deploy art to explore their roles as citizens and social actors.” His work is currently on view in “Countermythologies” (March 7-May 10, 2020) at NXTHVN in New Haven, Conn., and will be featured in “Invisible” (March 13-May 31, 2020), which opens later this week at Science Gallery Dublin in Ireland.


Installation view of TAVARES STRACHAN, “Soft Power,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Oct. 26, 2019-Feb. 17, 2020). | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Photos by Frazer Bradshaw


TAVARES STRACHAN, “Robert,” 2018 (blue neon, purple neon, Pyrex, transformers, MDF box, Dimensions variable), 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “May You Live in Interesting Times.” | Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Photo by Andrea D’altoè Neonlauro


BORN IN NASSAU, BAHAMAS, Strachan has a fine arts associate degree in painting from College of the Bahamas, Nassau (1999). He also studied liberal arts at Brown University (2002), before earning a BFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design (2003) and receiving an MFA in sculpture from Yale University (2006).

Strachan participated in Frieze Projects at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair last month (Feb. 13-16, 2020), where he installed a neon sculpture that said “Sometimes Lies Are Prettier” right in the middle of the Paramount Pictures Studios backlot. Drawing on the power of Hollywood, an industry built on storytelling, the work considers “the contemporary conflation of fact and fiction, where information can be fabricated and beautiful, and factual and unappealing.”

The artist’s text-based neon sculptures reflect the tenets and themes of his broader practice. Additional neon works include “In Broad Daylight” (Aug 8, 2018-Jan. 31, 2020) a site-specific neon work installed over the main entrance of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s historic building. “I am” was a site-specific commission at Desert X 2017. Exploring the relationship between human beings and their environment, the outdoor installation in Rancho Mirage, Calif., was comprised of 290 craters spanning an area equivalent to two football fields.

Several years ago, the artist installed “You belong here,” his billboard-sized neon sculpture, on a barge in the Mississippi River during Prospect.3 New Orleans (Oct. 23, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014).

This year, he reprised the message, which is about belonging and community. For the Feb. 21 opening of The Momentary, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s new art space in Bentonville, Ark., a version of the neon sculpture was installed permanently on the east side of the building.

“My creative practice is about filling gaps.” — Tavares Strachan

AT THE 55TH VENICE BIENNALE (2013), Strachan represented the Bahamas with a solo exhibition in its inaugural national pavilion.

More recently, Strachan was featured in the international exhibition curated by Ralph Rugoff at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019). His presentation revisited Lawrence’s story, creating a body of work that memorializes the astronaut’s life. He also showed “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility” along with a suite of mixed-media paintings inspired by the contents of the volume.

“My creative practice is about filling gaps. So it’s mostly about investigating,” Strachan said, talking about his Venice presentation in the video below.

“The work ‘The Encyclopedia of Invisibility,’ that is in Giardini, is a heavy reference to the Encylcopedia Brittanica. It represents an amalgamation of ideas, thoughts, and concerns of people, places and things that were not included into a zeitgeist or into a history. This is exciting and interesting to me because so many people that I know and grew up with and so many stories that I’ve learned about are not included in the zeitgeist, in the conversation. So the question is, ‘Who decides.’ Right? ‘Who decides what’s important and who gets to create this thing we call history?'” CT


IMAGES: Top of page, TAVARES STRACHAN, Installation view of “The Encyclopedia of Invisibility” and related works, 58th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, “May You Live in Interesting Times” (May 11 –November 24, 2019). | Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Photo by Andrea D’altoè Neonlauro; Top right, Tavares Strachan. | Photo by Brooke DiDonato


FIND MORE about Tavares Strachan on his website

WATCH VIDEO about Tavares Strachan’s ENOCH project memorializing astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.


Artist Tavares Strachan explains the installations he presented in the international exhibition at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019). | Video by Biennale Channel


TAVARES STRACHAN, “Making of a Brave Man,” 2019 (mylar, matte paper, pigment, spray paint, acrylic, oil stick, enamel, vinyl, graphite, 89 1/2 in x 89 1/2 in x 3 1/8 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Photo by Jurate Veceraite


TAVARES STRACHAN, Installation view of “You Belong Here,” 2020 (neon), The Momentary, Bentonville, Ark. | Photo by Stephen Ironside, Courtesy The Momentary


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