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The Madrid-based artist Santiago Sierra presents 52 Canvases Exposed to Mexico City’s Air (2019) in the Saligman Family Atrium. Known for his provocative performance and installation art that deals with the topic of social inequities, the artist has created with this work a visualization of the toxicity of contemporary urban life.

Sierra created the 52 compositions—one for each week in a year—by placing adhesive-lacquered canvases on the floor in a building in Mexico City with the windows open, allowing the air to settle on them. Each week he removed one canvas and had a conservator permanently fix the sediment that had gathered on its surface. The result is a disturbing time-lapse of noxious accumulation. 52 Canvases Exposed to Mexico City’s Air refers not only to pollution in Mexico City but also to the increase of airborne contaminants in congested areas around the world.

Over the past three decades Sierra’s work has also focused on capitalist labor relations in art-world contexts to underscore their dehumanizing effects. In this work he does not replicate the human-on-human cruelty explored in his earlier works, but rather employs art as direct evidence of environmental degradation. Sierra’s canvases also turn our attention toward the systems of power responsible for these current conditions, making us see anew not just the air but also the policies that contaminate our bodies.

The exhibition is curated by Meredith Malone, curator.

About the Artist

Santiago Sierra was born in Madrid in 1966. He studied visual arts in Mexico City, Madrid, and Hamburg. Sierra has exhibited extensively all over the world. Since the mid-1990s he has realized numerous projects, including collaborations with such institutions as the Center for Art and Politics, Tel Aviv, Israel (2018); Stiftung Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany (2013); Magasin III Museum for Contemporary Art, Stockholm (2009); Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover, Germany (2005); and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2004). His work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany (2022); MUAC, Mexico City (2021); Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2020); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2017); Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2005); São Paulo Biennial (2004); Liverpool Biennial, England (2004); and Venice Biennale (2001, 2005). He represented Spain at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. Sierra lives and works in Madrid and Mexico City.


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.