Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts
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Sanford Biggers: Codex

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Sanford Biggers: Codex

May 23- August 4, 2013
Opening Thursday, May 23, 5-7 pm

Click here to read about the exhibition in Style Weekly.

Sanford Biggers has achieved international prominence over the last decade with a diverse body of work that explores themes of identity, race, American history, and spirituality, often by blending installation and performance. In Codex, his most recently completed project, Biggers continues to probe these themes through another stylistic departure: painting on historical quilts, many of which were gifts to the artist from descendants of slave owners.

In conceiving the quilt works that make up Codex, Biggers was inspired by the Afrofuturist notion of “Harriet Tubman as astronaut,” the renowned abolitionist who led slaves to their freedom guided by the stars. He was also inspired by the use of quilts as signposts along the Underground Railroad, signaling “stations” or safe houses. Biggers knits these multivalent themes together by applying to each quilt a complex system of imagery that includes star maps, dance notations, and the Buddhist lotus flower, whose petals are each formed by the image of a cross-section of a slave ship. Suspended among the quilts, cloud forms made of raw cotton not only refer to the institution of slavery, but also evoke the theme of transcendence, reminding the viewer of the power of the human will to overcome oppression.

Biggers began to develop Codex after receiving the 2010 Greenfield Prize, awarded annually by the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Greenfield Foundation to a mid-career artist to create new work. “I’ve not exhibited paintings or drawings for 15 years,” noted Biggers when the exhibition premiered at the Ringling Museum last year. “This project brought me back to those roots.” As observed by Matthew McLendon, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, “Codex plays a significant role in the continued maturation of Sanford Biggers’ work. Here we see the artist reconfiguring symbolism he has used before in three-dimensional forms through a return to his earliest form of expression—painting.”

The exhibition at the Anderson Gallery will also feature the artist’s 2004 installation, Calenda (Big Ass Bang!), which humorously plays on the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. Patterns of footprints painted on the gallery’s walls and floor, animated by a spinning disco ball, suggest both dance steps and celestial charts. The title Calenda refers to a form of martial arts originating in Africa that traveled with slaves to America, where it may have become a dance with codes concealed in its moves.

This presentation of Codex is made possible with assistance from The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, where it appeared March 30-October 14, 2012.

About the Artist

A Los Angeles native now based in New York, Sanford Biggers creates artworks that integrate film/video, installation, sculpture, drawing, original music, and performance. In the last year alone, his work was featured in solo exhibitions at MASS MoCA, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and New York’s Sculpture Center. His installations, videos, and performances have been included in many notable group exhibitions worldwide, including Prospect.1 New Orleans, Illuminations at the Tate Modern; Whitney Biennial, and Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and at institutions in China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Poland, and Russia.

Biggers has received many international residency awards and fellowships, including the American Academy, Berlin, Germany; Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany; Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland; Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, California; ARCUS Project Foundation, Ibaraki, Japan; Art in General/Trafo Gallery Eastern European Exchange, Budapest, Hungary; and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, Maine. He has been a fellow at the Socrates Sculpture Park, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council World Views AIR Program, Eyebeam Atelier, Studio Museum AIR Program, and P.S. 1 International Studio Program. Other awards include a Creative Time Travel Grant, Creative Capital Project Grant, New York Percent for the Arts Commission, Art Matters Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts Award in performance art/multidisciplinary work, Lambent Fellowship in the Arts, Pennies From Heaven/New York Community Trust Award, Tanne Foundation Award, Rema Hort Mann Foundation Award, Camille Hanks-Cosby Fellowship, and James Nelson Raymond Fellowship from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Formerly a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Biggers is currently Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Visual Arts Program. He is also Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at the VCU School of the Arts in Richmond.