The work of Kaari Upson was always profoundly concerned with the body, its interactions with the psyche, as well as its relation to other bodies both real and imagined.
Limbs, eyes, lips, hands, feet and braids populate her sculptures, paintings and drawings, pulling viewers into their complex webs of form and narrative. Even in Upson’s abstractions, folds and orifices abound. Body as Landscape, whose title comes from a phrase found in one of the artist’s drawings, offers an in-depth look at Upson’s multilayered, kaleidoscopic works on paper, alongside one of her celebrated “mother’s leg” sculptural installations, which have never previously been shown in the US.
Two masterworks anchor the exhibition. The room-sized installation eleven (2020) comprises a forest of suspended tree limbs; all eleven are cast from the tree outside the artist’s childhood home, melded with enlarged casts of her knee. Visible termite trails take on the look of arteries and veins, and the legs’ scale miniaturizes the viewer, as if they were returning to a child’s size – modeled by the artist herself in this portrait shot in 2019. These hybrid objects, whose colors range from earth- and skin-tones to radiant hues, display the importance for Upson of the casting process, which imprints not only physical surfaces, but psychic and emotional histories as well.
The second monumental work on view, Untitled (2015–21), is the largest and most ambitious drawing the artist ever produced. Upson’s drawing style was unique, filled with seemingly innumerable layers of bodily presences and texts rife with psychological exploration – all sourced from past artworks and readings, as well as the artist’s own writings and studies for future projects.
[ . . . ]
Despite expounding on loss, trauma and other emotional breaking points, humor also filters throughout the artist’s drawings – a knowing acknowledgment, and respite, from the melodrama of her visual and textual interplay.