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MCA Talk
Naomi Beckwith on William J. O’Brien

Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 12–1 pm

Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator Naomi Beckwith leads a tour of William J. O’Brien


About the Exhibition

William J. O’Brien, the artist’s first major solo museum exhibition, demonstrates his prolific output in a broad range of media, from sculpture and ceramics to drawing, textiles, and painting. His works on paper usually feature exuberant colors and geometric patterning that mimic the automatic drawings of the Surrealists while faintly evoking psychedelia and dream paintings. His ceramics are playfully formed, often drizzled with vividly colored glazes, and exhibit a range of cultural references, from ethnographic objects of the ancient past to “face jugs” of the antebellum American South. His paintings are accumulations of pigment, fabric, string, and other materials that appear to droop toward the floor, and his sculptures of tenuously attached die-cut shapes, while stiff and upright, seem to create more negative space than positive forms.

Stemming from the artist’s interest in language and poetry, the exhibition will be organized like a poem and is divided into several sections, or stanzas. Each section features works in several media to underscore the connections between disparate objects, as well as the artist’s interest in scale. Above all, the exhibition develops new language around O’Brien’s contemporary abstract artworks—language that focuses on process rather than individual expression or technique and that considers his body of work as a reflection of a multitude of cultural sources. O’Brien’s first artist’s monograph, produced by MCA Chicago, accompanies the show.