Kevin Beasley

Photo: Joshua Franzos

Kevin Beasley

28th Heinz Awards - 2023

Visual artist Kevin Beasley receives the Heinz Award for the Arts for works that cross sculpture, sound and performance, and are inspired by his personal experiences of grappling with history. Constructed with culturally relevant ephemera, materials and sounds to further activate the experience of the work, his installations engage multiple senses to address complex American histories that are steeped in our shared generational memories.  

Mr. Beasley’s sculptures layer materials preserved in resin as “slabs” and arranged as landscapes and painterly abstract works, clothing suspended in the form of absent figures and satellite dishes that alter the acoustics of the spaces they occupy. Sound, a powerful and consistent tool in his practice, amplifies the physicality of his works, adding a tactile experience to his installations and performances through vibrations that are felt in the body as much as their sources are seen and their sounds heard. Together, these elements offer viewers a deeper way to contend with the stories within.  

Noted works include, “Your face is/is not enough,” which incorporated audio clips from riots and protests, and riot gas masks covered with feathers and clothing items that were worn by performers. The exhibition, “A View of a Landscape,” connected his Virginia childhood home and the history of the cotton industry. Works included resin slabs of objects including Virginia-grown cotton, graduation caps, pinecones, du-rags and housedresses bought at a store in Harlem where his grandmother shopped. "A cotton gin motor," enclosed a restored 2,500-pound cotton gin motor, which had been in operation during the Civil Rights Movement, in a soundproof vitrine, its roar skillfully co-opted from the gallery and piped into a separate listening room.  

“Yesterday we said tomorrow,” created for the Prospect.5 Triennial in New Orleans, became a social experiment in creating communal space, with Mr. Beasley purchasing land that had been vacant since Hurricane Katrina and transforming it into a community garden and neighborhood gathering space.

Photo: Joshua Franzos

Photo: Joshua Franzos

I have a belief that histories are not only written through language but even more importantly inscribed, collected and gathered through objects, ephemera, and places we encounter. Whether it’s the texture of a weathered surface or the accumulation of stuff, the presence and existence of our activities and ultimately our lives is evidenced by what we leave behind, from footprints to legacy.

My work, ‘A View of a Landscape,’ is a way for me to look at this kind of history and material residue. Not only in the long stretches of history but also in the shorter, more recent occurrences. How do we account for the movements of generations before our own — our ancestors’ — while also bearing witness, engaging, and noting the subtle movements unfolding right in front of us? I can’t help but feel implicated in this fact, so it is imperative for me to channel this through my hands with materials that bring mystery, malleability, and aesthetic discovery to the forefront.” 

— Kevin Beasley


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