Rachel Harrison

Rachel Harrison


Rachel Harrison, Photo for the poster of the Exhibition HAYCATION at Portikus, 2009. Photo by Jason Mandella.

November 25, 2009

Rachel Harrison

November 28, 2009 – January 17, 2010

Opening: November 27, 2009, 8pm
Press conversation: November 27, 2009, 11am
Lecture: November 25, 2009, 7pm, auditorium at the Städelschule

Alte Brücke 2/Maininsel
60594 Frankfurt/Main, Germany


The American artist Rachel Harrison’s sculptures are at once autonomous and always part of a larger installational ensemble. Such an ensemble is often based on a specific idea or tendency the various objects pursue in different ways. The sculptures are usually made of a variety of materials—they may consist of bulky parts spray-painted in different colors, amorphously executed pedestals and plinths, or diverse readymade objects taken from the world of consumer and commodity culture. They can be imagined in an infinite number of variations. The surfaces are treated in multifaceted ways; seen from different angles, they sometimes seem to be not even one and the same work. The sculptures often appear to wear masks and costumes; additional media, such as photography and video, both interrupt and accompany them. Harrison’s work combines industrially produced and handmade elements, abstract shapes and real objects in precarious sculptural units that present lateral views finished in a variety of ways. All elements she uses, such as the specific treatment of the material, its colors, the combination with other objects, form kaleidoscope-like facets that appear and disappear at different angles, in different perspectives—that are never finished but always in transition, part of the becoming of an ever-mutable intellectual process.

The various artifacts are intertwined in new ways, acquire new dimensions of value, offer comments. They tell of characters and events in recent art and cultural history as well as the popular world of the media. The works suggest combinatorial clues, engender effects; now and then the structures even dissolve into references within a private language, or at least become difficult to understand. Rachel Harrison’s strategies are unsettling and provoking, seducing and destabilizing our thinking in patterns of representation, whose internal dynamism she uses in masterful fashion only to induce, without further ado, their collapse in such dialectical reversals. The American author John Kelsey, for instance, writes: “And if Harrison’s sculpture is so caught up in this chaos of signs and surface effects it’s precisely because it’s so serious about space: in a time when space and image lose their distinction, and the old, ideal distance between viewer and object is always already filled up and occupied by a thousand communications, sculpture, too, finds ways of making itself multi-surfaced and schizo-temporal. In order to re-occupy our contemporary no-space, it trades in its timeless pose for a temporary one, or for a manic series of appearances.” With these appearances, there will be no real final decoding of a concealed truth or an idea. True, there is between disguise and sculpture a world where people like Jack Smith, Leigh Bowery, Liz Taylor, Al Gore, E.T., the Venus de Milo, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Marilyn Monroe come to life. Yet plenty of tchotchkes, magazine illustrations, canned beans, Slim-Fast in cans, honey bears and such things are also waiting to be seen and to be put in combination. The installations demand the beholder’s engagement, for although the relationship between a work and its title in most cases permits possible short-circuit conclusions toward an interpretation of the work, it will ultimately be defined by the viewer alone. On this point, John Kelsey writes further: “(…) [the sculptures] open troublesome gaps and cause the work to stammer in and dysfunction in the very places where display and communication occur. (…) [like this] Harrison causes an immediate confusion between the space of retail and the space of subjective construction.”

The bandwidth of art-historical references is no less wide; Harrison’s oeuvre contains allusions to works by Donald Judd, David Smith, Helen Frankenthaler, Eva Hesse, Adrian Piper, Gordon Matta-Clark, Paul McCarthy, Cady Noland, Haim Steinbach, and many others. Still, it is the medium of pop and popular culture that defines the fundamental tenor, that lends her work its sometimes bitingly humorous tone. Accordingly, the works in the exhibition at the Portikus are inspired by an article that appeared in the press, more precisely: the New York Times. The article describes a new trend that might be dubbed HAYCATION, whence also the title of the exhibition. It reports that in the United States it has apparently been “in” for the past few years to spend vacations on a farm. That is perfectly ordinary for us Europeans, but in America it is a rare phenomenon, one that has recently become quite popular. Yet American haycationers must expect to pay up to 300 USD per night if, escaping their urban everyday lives, they want to milk cows instead and make hay and finally be able to give their children a hands-on demonstration of how the meat they eat is produced. Rachel Harrison, however, is not interested in illustrating this trend; rather, the phenomenon serves simply as a symbolic frame narrative. The idea of returning to one’s “origins,” the notion that a more complete life can be had by switching between different, even contrary lifestyles, circulates throughout our contemporary Western world. Telling this one particular story, then, is not of decisive importance to Harrison. Instead, she wants to point out to us how every one of us brings our own set of cultural references to bear; accordingly, the challenge the visitor faces is not about understanding what this is about but about reading the signs and interpreting them within a larger—and perhaps also aesthetic—referential framework.

Rachel Harrison is currently showing her first large-scale survey exhibition at the CCS Bard / Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. The exhibition will be on view until December 20 before moving, in a revised version, to the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

Rachel Harrison was born in New York in 1966. She lives and works in New York.

Exhibitions (solo): 2009: Consider the Lobster, CCS Bard / Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY (catalogue); 2008: Sunny Side Up, Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna; Lay of the Land, Le Consortium, Dijon; 2007: Voyage of the Beagle, Migros Museum, Zurich and Kunsthalle Nürnberg (catalogue); If I Did It, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; 2006: Checking the Tires, Not To Mention the Marble Nude, Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne; sometimes it snows in april (presentation in collaboration with Michael Krebber), The McAllister Institute, New York; When Hangover Becomes Form, in collaboration with Scot Lyall, The Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; LACE, Los Angeles; 2005: Car Stereo Parkway, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow; 2004: New Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Posh Floored as Ali G Tackles Becks, Camden Art Centre, London; Excuse Me?, Arndt & Partner, Berlin; Latka/Latkas, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; 2003: Westward Ho, Bergen Kunsthalle, Gallery No. 5, Bergen; 2002 Currents 30: Rachel Harrison, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee (catalogue); Seven Sculptures, Arndt & Partner, Berlin; Art 33 Basel, Art Statements, Basel Art Fair, Basel; Brides and Bases, Oakville Gallery, Toronto (catalogue); 2001: Perth Amboy, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; 1999: Patent Pending: Beveled Rasp Sac, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; 1997: The Look of Dress-Separates, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; 1996: Should home windows or shutters be required to withstand a direct hit from an eight-foot-long two-by-four shot from a cannon at 34 miles an hour, without creating a hole big enough to let through a three-inch sphere?, Arena Gallery, Brooklyn

We would like to thank the Hessische Kulturstiftung for its generous support.

The exhibition HAYCATION will be documented in the catalogue produced on occasion of the survey exhibition Consider the Lobster at the CCS Bard / Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, and the Whitechapel Gallery, London (to be published in 2010).

For more information and guided tours of the exhibition, please contact us at info@portikus.de.

RSVP for Rachel Harrison
November 25, 2009

Thank you for your RSVP.

Portikus will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.