DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death and Sara VanDerBeek

DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death and Sara VanDerBeek

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

Left: Kris Martin, Still Alive, 2005. Silver-plated bronze, human-scale dimension. Courtesy of Todd Wider. Right: Sara VanDerBeek, “Half Moon,” 2014. Digital c-print, 24 x 17 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

March 8, 2014

DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death
Sara VanDerBeek

March 7–June 8, 2014

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland
11400 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio


DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death
Organized by Megan Lykins Reich, Director of Programs and Associate Curator

DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death presents work by 23 contemporary artists, both living and deceased, who seek meaning in mortality. Across a range of materials and processes, works in this exhibition present diverse perspectives on life, death, and that which lies between and beyond. A dirge is a mourning song. Likewise, many artists in the exhibition use their work as a vehicle for expressing grief. This includes highly personal exercises by artists facing their own mortality. With emphasis on the body and its inevitable failure, these works portray the complex physical, emotional, and psychological effects of facing death. Other artists draw upon their experiences of losing others. In this regard, the archive is a particularly potent concept as artists inventory and modify objects and ephemera that symbolize a loved one who has passed. Moving beyond individual experiences, many works emphasize mortality’s role in defining sociopolitical systems, cultural practices, and spiritual belief. Some consider how death can be used as a mechanism for control, power, and protest. Others explore the relationship between life and afterlife. Light plays a strong metaphoric role here, suggesting the endurance of relationships beyond death. The exhibition arcs from the personal to the universal, historic to the present, literal to the symbolic, in order to explore this inevitable yet mysterious experience we all share. DIRGE creates an expansive space in which we may contemplate the nature of life by reflecting on its end.

Sara VanDerBeek
Organized by David Norr, Chief Curator

Sara VanDerBeek’s recent bodies of work relate to cities, including Detroit, Los Angeles, Rome, and now Cleveland. Using photography and sculpture, she creates installations that respond to the architecture, atmosphere, and layers of time found in these sites. Though tied to particular places, VanDerBeek’s works contemplate transformation and impermanence on a broader scale, as universal constants.

In Cleveland, the artist was drawn to the Euclid Avenue corridor, a zone that has undergone continual, dramatic change over the past 100 years. Using the street as a guide, she spent time in the adjoining communities of Hough, Uptown, and East Cleveland, and was struck by the mixture of modern, reflective buildings and historic structures made from concrete, brick, and wood.

VanDerBeek’s process is responsive and open-ended. She moves fluidly through a site, shooting hundreds of images on film. Back in the studio, she sorts through the negatives, looking for forms and gestures that articulate her initial impressions. In response to Cleveland, VanDerBeek generated a body of works including cast concrete sculptures and dramatically scaled photographs, which emphasize movement, perspective, gravity and reflectivity. The blue tones used in many of these works hold multiple references: blueprints, cyanotypes, glass, and aged steel. VanDerBeek’s primary interest in this color relates to dusk, the moment in between day and night when shadows turn blue and vision becomes less clear. This transitional state relates to a central concern in her work: the interplay between the physicality of objects and the fleeting nature of experience.

Sara VanDerBeek (b. 1976, Baltimore) lives and works in New York. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and Fondazione Memmo–Arte Contemporanea, Rome. She was highlighted in New Photography 2009 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and her work is held in collections at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.


Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland presents DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death and Sara VanDerBeek
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March 8, 2014

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