Kahlil Robert Irving: Archaeology of the Present
Barney A. Ebsworth Gallery
The St. Louis–based artist Kahlil Robert Irving creates assemblages made of layered images and sculptures composed of replicas of everyday objects. Mainly working in ceramics, Irving critically engages with the history of the medium and challenges constructs around identity and culture in the Western world.
His sculptures incorporate objects and images that are often considered detritus but can be representative of a historical moment, a way of life, or even specific individuals. Irving creates trompe l’oeil ceramic copies of objects, from scraps of cardboard to takeout containers, and folds them into his sculptures through an arduous practice of refiring pieces in a kiln to achieve intricate layers. Recent works have examined digital media, memory, race, and Black life as subjects embedded in his ceramic elements and made visible in prints and wallpapers. More than just an archival account, Irving’s approach approximates archaeology, uncovering layer upon layer of evidence of our own contemporary artifacts that begin to tell a fragmented story.
This exhibition features Irving’s new sculptures, video, and found objects that together consider our relationship to the city street as a place and a concept. At the Kemper Art Museum, Irving situates his sculptures and other items within a large plywood platform. Some works, such as a painted industrial ceramic pipe, rise from the platform, standing above viewers like a large pillar or column. A brick wall similarly emerges from the floor, while ceramic tiles made to resemble textures from the street are sunken into the platform and visible through openings protected by a railing. These street sculptures, as Irving calls them, are made from hand-pressed stoneware tiles, speckled with white ceramic, whose mottled surfaces are meant to resemble asphalt. Initially inspired by the mosaic floors of Hellenistic Antioch, Irving’s tile sculptures present a wholly contemporary topography integrated with enameled reproductions of urban refuse: air fresheners, newspapers, cardboard, and the like. Also set into the structure are two video works that depict both the city street and the sky, inverting expectations of the sky as a place of possibility and the ground as one of necessity. Viewers can explore the platform as an object itself, stepping onto and moving around it to experience changing perspectives and engage with the installation as a whole.
The exhibition is organized by the Walker Art Center. The exhibition is curated by William Hernández Luege, curatorial associate, painting and sculpture, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and former curatorial assistant, visual arts, at the Walker Art Center.
The presentation at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is curated by Meredith Malone, curator.
Kahlil Robert Irving was born in San Diego in 1992. He currently lives and works in St. Louis. He attended the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis (MFA 2017) and the Kansas City Art Institute (BFA, art history and ceramics, 2015). Recent solo and group exhibitions include Projects: Kahlil Robert Irving, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021); Social Works II, Gagosian, London (2021); Soft Water Hard Stone, New Museum Triennial, New York (2021); Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019); and the Singapore Biennale (2019). Irving was an artist in residence at Art Omi in summer 2018. He was awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award in 2019 and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 2020. Irving’s work is in the collections of the Ken Ferguson Teaching Collection at the Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri; JP Morgan Chase Art Collection, New York; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; RISD Museum, Providence; Riga Porcelain Museum, Latvia; Foundation for Contemporary Ceramic Art, Kecskemét, Hungary; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In coordination with his exhibition, the artist Kahlil Robert Irving selected a series of contemporary video works to screen concurrently in the Kemper Art Museum’s Video Gallery. Space Mapping: Video Art Series includes seven videos that highlight intimate moments in time and space when Black people are present, emphasizing the fact that no matter the setting, “We are still here.” The participating artists are Lyndon Barrois Jr., Tony Cokes, Cameron Downey, Addoley Dzegede, Charles H. Lee, William M. Morris, Jefferson Pinder, and Tiffany J. Sutton.
The exhibition is made possible by the leadership support of the William T. Kemper Foundation. All exhibitions at the Kemper Art Museum are supported by members of the Director’s Circle, with major annual support provided by Emily and Teddy Greenspan and additional generous annual support from Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice, Julie Kemper Foyer, Joanne Gold and Andrew Stern, David and Dorothy Kemper, Ron and Pamela Mass, and Kim and Bruce Olson. Further support is provided by the Hortense Lewin Art Fund, the Ken and Nancy Kranzberg Fund, and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.