Quahatika by Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis, Quahatika, 2013, glazed ceramic, 23" × 13" × 10" (58.4 cm × 33 cm × 25.4 cm) © Lynda Benglis

Online Viewing Room

Material Matters

Apr 7 – Apr 21, 2020
Curated by Andria Hickey in Collaboration with Joe Baptista and Danielle Forest

Material Matters examines the complex role of materiality in the work of eleven leading artists today.

Spanning 60 years of artmaking, the exhibition explores how material choices guide artistic expression and provide the tools to disrupt expectation, shape meaning, and embody symbolic content. ​

The unexpected outcomes that emerge from combining disparate materials can result in semiotic experimentation as well as aesthetic and formal play. Robert Rauschenberg—who invented the term “combine” to refer to objects that combine aspects of sculpture and painting in a single work—is perhaps one of the most influential artists to engage in such material play. To make Quorum (Unions) (1975), Rauschenberg collaborated with workers from a local paper mill while he was living in India, to create a “rag-mud” structure of paper pulp, ground tamarind seeds, copper sulfate, and other materials that suggest the symbolic embodiment of the context in which the work was made. ​

Ceramic sculptures by Lynda Benglis, Arlene Shechet, Richard Tuttle, and Lee Ufan point to a relationship between materiality, alchemy, and intuition, qualities inherent in the malleable, slippery nature of base materials like clay. In other instances, such as in the works of Yin Xiuzhen and Song Dong, material choices offer a symbolic language that engages social and economic contexts, revealing the power structures and histories that shape the contemporary material world.​

Found objects can also function as conceptual material and fodder for transformative processes that subvert expectation. In Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s work, everyday objects have been expanded to a colossal scale, while other works remain small and playfully frozen in a moment, like the melting ice cream and spilling cherries in Paradise Pies (2009). Tara Donovan’s inventive use of manufactured materials such as Slinkys, paper plates, pins, and straws engage in a formal dialogue with light and space, while creating imaginative forms that transform the identity of the material itself. ​

The most recent works in this exhibition investigate the physical composition of objects and their relationship to contemporary production, technology, and the environment. DRIFT's material studies of common objects such as iPhones and bicycles offer a profound understanding of our alienation from the extracted raw materials that are needed to make the objects we use every day. ​

Robert Rauschenberg, Quorum (Unions), 1975, rag-mud, rope, bamboo, and mud, 64" x 45" x 4-1/2" (162.6 cm x 114.3 cm x 11.4 cm)

Robert Rauschenberg

"All material has its own history built into it. There’s no such thing as 'better' material. The strongest thing about my work, if I may say this, is the fact that I chose to ennoble the ordinary."

Robert Rauschenberg

Lynda Benglis, Quahatika, 2013, glazed ceramic, 23" × 13" × 10" (58.4 cm × 33 cm × 25.4 cm)

Lynda Benglis

"When I do ceramics I feel a need to kind of wrestle with the material and be integrated with the form and the surface. I can only tell you that the thinking in it is so fast. It’s a dance. I feel the clay; I am the clay, so to speak. I feel this in all my work, that I am the material and what I am doing is embracing it and allowing it to take form.”

Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis, Tamos, 2013, glazed ceramic, 21" × 17" × 16" (53.3 cm × 43.2 cm × 40.6 cm), in two parts
Lynda Benglis, Elephant Necklace 51, 2016, glazed ceramic, 10" × 9" × 9" (25.4 cm × 22.9 cm × 22.9 cm)
Lynda Benglis, Elephant Necklace 58, 2016, glazed ceramic, 8-1/2" × 11" × 10-1/2" (21.6 cm × 27.9 cm × 26.7 cm)
Lee Ufan, Untitled, 2016, terracotta, 5-1/8" × 21-1/4" × 15" (13 cm × 54 cm × 38.1 cm) 36" × 28" × 21" (91.4 cm × 71.1 cm × 53.3 cm), base

Lee Ufan

Lee Ufan’s characteristic use of raw material is present in his works in terracotta, which emphasize the tactile sensibility and dynamic natural character of the clay. Here, impressions made by the artist pushing his fingers into the slabs articulate a sense of physicality, and the force or vibration created in the exchange of energy during their making is apparent. As with his output in other media, Lee’s ceramic pieces result from an encounter between artist and material, expressive of the forces that are larger than the maker and transcending materiality.

By welcoming fire into the creative process, I accept a third person, a chemistry, something that transcends the ‘I,’ another entity that remains mysterious, foreign, that one does not master, that one does not understand.​

Lee Ufan

Lee Ufan, Untitled, 2016, terracotta, 21-5/8" × 19-11/16" × 2-3/8" (54.9 cm × 50 cm × 6 cm)
Lee Ufan, Untitled, 2015, red stoneware, 8-3/8" × 21-5/8" × 21-5/8" (21.3 cm × 54.9 cm × 54.9 cm) 36" × 27" × 27" (91.4 cm × 68.6 cm × 68.6 cm), base
Richard Tuttle, It looks different Yeah, it does look different, 2018, air-dried ceramic, metal, string, and nails, 8" × 8-1/2" × 5" (20.3 cm × 21.6 cm × 12.7 cm)

Richard Tuttle

“I hardly understand anything, much less anything important, but my inclination must, or seems to have, some significance in the world in which I am living.”

Richard Tuttle

Arlene Shechet​

"Guessed It is both sexy and funny, which are things that I like to play with, often in the form of physical comedy. The sexiness is in its vulnerability, in the sense of the form almost failing, or almost falling over. I like to have a solid structure that permits a sense of possible failure while being rock solid, as a way to address the physical, psychological and philosophical ways we deal with the nature of our existence. We are in a balance of trying to live wholly and also knowing that one day we will cease to exist. There’s a lightness and darkness in it, and a sense of knowing and unknowing throughout the process."

Arlene Shechet​

Arlene Shechet, With Wet, 2022, Glazed ceramic, white gold leaf, powder coated steel, 18" × 16" × 11" (45.7 cm × 40.6 cm × 27.9 cm), overall
Arlene Shechet, Sudden Love, 2018, glazed ceramic and painted steel, ceramic, 21" × 17" × 17" (53.3 cm × 43.2 cm × 43.2 cm) painted steel, 9-3/4" × 9" × 9" (24.8 cm × 22.9 cm × 22.9 cm) overall, 30" × 17" × 17" (76.2 cm × 43.2 cm × 43.2 cm)
Oldenburg/van Bruggen, Paradise Pies (II and VI) -- VI, 5/6 Red, 2009, cast aluminum painted with acrylic, 6-3/8" x 13-1/4" x 9-1/2" (16.2 cm x 33.7 cm x 24.1 cm)

Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen

"I am for an art that is put on and taken off, like pants, which develops holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie."

Claes Oldenburg

​While celebrating Coosje van Bruggen’s birthday at a restaurant in London in 1996, Oldenberg and his long-standing collaborator ended their dinner with a specially prepared blueberry pie à la mode. Shortly after, Oldenburg began filling sheets of his sketchbook with renderings of blueberry pies, in which the dessert took on numerous identities in various iterations: as architecture, functioning as a gazebo; toppling over a cliff; and as a chair. Together, the artists created an assortment of pies throughout the years in an evolution of the motif in humorous, dynamic forms and in colors that are unmistakably characteristic of their oeuvre.

Oldenburg/van Bruggen, Valentine Perfume, 1999, cast aluminum painted with polyurethane enamel and latex on aluminum base, 45-3/4" x 24-1/4" x 22-3/4" (116.2 cm x 61.6 cm x 57.8 cm)
Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2015, Slinky®s, 80" × 72" × 57" (203.2 cm × 182.9 cm × 144.8 cm)

Tara Donovan

"With every project, I isolate a new material and have to figure it all out from the beginning. I’m always looking for certain physical traits that can somehow be activated outside of the material itself."

Tara Donovan

Untitled (2015), comprised of numerous steel Slinky®s, exemplifies Tara Donovan’s gravitation toward the inherent qualities of her materials. Resembling an expansive cloud of animate spirals, here steel catches and reflects light, its incandescent surface shifting with the viewer’s perspective. In this way, Donovan manipulates a seemingly banal commodity object into a dynamic and ephemeral experience. “I like the idea that my work is, in a primitive sense, manufactured. It illustrates a kind of reversal of the intended fate of the material. Instead of this mass-produced item being widely and individually distributed, it is amassed and (re)manufactured,” explains Donovan.

Song Dong, Usefulness of Uselessness No. 8, 2013-2015, old furniture, plywood, tile, water outlet, 61 cm × 68 cm × 40 cm (24" × 26-3/4" × 15-3/4")

Song Dong

Usefulness of Uselessness No. 8 (2015), part of the series Doing Nothing Doing Debris, draws on Song Dong’s ongoing exploration of labor, class, and his own childhood in Beijing, where families would construct makeshift additions to their homes using found materials.

Composed of salvaged architectural remnants, the resulting sculpture lacks any obvious use value, and instead represents a kind of surplus value, which Song explains as "a value that people recognize beyond existing value…It is not about exploitation, but about discovery and creation. It is the 'usefulness of uselessness.'"


"Confronting the viewer on a very elementary level with the objects that surround them, iPhone 4s, inspires fresh contemplation of the raw materials at our daily disposal. We make clear how much of the matter within these objects is extracted from the earth."


DRIFT, iPhone 4s, 2018, Glass / Stainless Steel / Polycarbonate / LiCo / Graphite / PVC / PMMA / Fiberglass / Copper / Polyethylene / PET / Aluminum / Silicon / Sillicone Rubber / PVA / Kapton tape (Polyimide) / Ceramics / Magnet / Tin / PEN + PET / Nickel / Foam Rubber / Silver / Tantalum / Phosphorus / Nylon / Tungsten / Gallium / Cobalt / Arsenic / Gold / from largest to smallest amount raw materials, 42 mm × 80 mm × 113 mm (1-5/8" × 3-1/8" × 4-7/16")
DRIFT, Nokia 3210, 2018, PC + ABS / Nylon (PA) / Aluminum / PC / ABS / Glass Fiber / Misch Metal / Glass / Nickel Hydroxide / PVC / Epoxy / Steel / Tin / Paper / PET / Photoresist Polymer / Ceramics al2o3 / Adhesive / Copper / Rubber / PU Foam / Iron / Tantalum / Silicone Soft / PP / Magnet / Felt / Brass / Germanium / Gold / Nickel / from largest to smallest amount raw materials, 44 mm × 98 mm × 184 mm (1-3/4" × 3-7/8" × 7-1/4")
Yin Xiuzhen, Ceremonial Instruments No. 9, 2015-2016, porcelain, used clothes, 40 cm × 23.5 cm × 24 cm (15-3/4" × 9-1/4" × 9-7/16")

Yin Xiuzhen

Yin Xiuzhen’s Ceremonial Instruments embed threads of used clothing within glazed porcelain forms, constructing a link to a historic and diffuse strand of Chinese culture through her specific choice of material. Crucial to China's history, porcelain spread through the world beginning in the fourteenth century in trade with Europe and quickly became a symbol of luxury. Eschewing the fine craftsmanship of classical Chinese porcelain, Yin priveleges a lumpen style that equates the material to kind of industrial rubble. She considers the relationship between material and international economy in the way new attitudes toward urbanism have created a fast-paced China, where traditions and objects are treated as disposable.

We are in contact with ceramics in our daily lives, but because of its commonness we tend to turn a blind eye to it. I want to pull something new out of it and make it different.

Yin Xiuzhen​

Sui Jianguo, Garden in the Cloud - Planting Trace - Island No. 12, 2014-2020, white copper, 29.5 cm × 33.5 cm × 12.5 cm (11-5/8" × 13-3/16" × 4-15/16")

Sui Jianguo

Sui Jianguo’s series of 'trace' sculptures, Garden in the Cloud, poetically refers to the cloud storage for digital information. Each work begins with the basic modeling techniques: kneading, pinching, and pulling clay into nondescript forms. The artist’s palm is imprinted in the work's surface and the grip of the material remains. Small pieces of raw material are scanned, digitized, and 3D printed in photosensitive resin, and enlarged to reveal the intimate traces of the artist’s body in each object. In the artist’s words, these sculptures encapsulate both concept and “material evidence”—a record of action and embodiment of thinking.

Sui Jianguo, Garden in the Cloud-Trace No. 2, 2014-2018, cast bronze, 19.5 cm × 57 cm × 41.5 cm (7-11/16" × 22-7/16" × 16-5/16")
To inquire about any of the artists or works featured in this exhibition, please email inquiries@pacegallery.com.
  • Past, Material Matters, Apr 7, 2020