Clifford Owens. Anthology (Nsenga Knight) (detail). 2011. Performance still. Courtesy On Stellar Rays and MoMA PS1.
A photographer and performance artist whose object- and image-based works are produced most often in the studio-space of performances and habitually in collaboration with audiences (some of them quite private), Clifford Owens has been using photography, text, video, and audience engagement to explore race, class, gender, sexuality and art history since graduating from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998.
Owens is recognized particularly for several ongoing, serial performance pieces, each a post-Fluxus scholarly work animated by investigations into race and identity. He’s known for making art history a collaborator, a subject and a medium, an antagonist and an interlocutor, a status-quo legacy begging to be reformed and denounced, as well as celebrated, through performances cum revisions.
In Anthology, a solo exhibition at MoMA/PS1, which he turned into a residency slash live-action performance within the museum, Owens launched a highly personal, shape-shifting investigation into the history and scope of black performance art (it was the first work of his devoted to specifically American artists, as opposed to his normally international and interdisciplinary practice). He solicited, and then interpreted, performance scores from dozens of American black artists.
Throughout his career, Owens has worked largely “in residency,” conceiving and executing new works within the context of particular, time-limited settings, and in this exhibition, his first with INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, Owens will present a new series of coffee and Vaseline drawings, produced as part of a month-long summer residency inside the gallery, along with separate photograph and video elements. Also included is a pre-opening performance, “Orifice Descending,” with a score written by Vaginal Davis.
The works on paper were made within a number of private performances, and are referred to, by Owens, as “abstract figurative drawings,” produced in ways that are “similar to the process of making photographic prints in a darkroom. The Vaseline creates the latent image, the coffee is the alchemy that develops the image.” As he does when describing his performance series, Owens tends to focus on the procedural elements of his work; but, it is hard to overlook the deeper proscenium of history and identity in which these works have been staged.
Clifford Owens’ art has appeared in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His solo exhibitions include Anthology: Clifford Owens Museum of Modern Art PS1 (2011-2012), Better the Rebel You Know Home, Manchester, England (2014), and Perspectives 173: Clifford Owens Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2011). His many group exhibitions include, Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art Contemporary Arts Museum (2012 - 2014), Greater New York 2005 Museum of Modern Art PS1 (2005), Freestyle The Studio Museum in Harlem (2001), and Performance Now (2013 – 2014), and Lone Wolf Recital Corp Museum of Modern Art (2017).
He studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rutgers University and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. He has received numerous grants and fellowships including the William H. Johnson Prize, the Art Matters Grant, the Louis Tiffany Comfort Award, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the New York Community Trust, the Lambent Foundation, Denniston Hill Distinguished Performance Artist Prize and the Rutgers University Ralph Bunche Distinguished Graduate Fellowship. Publications, reviews and interviews about his work include New York Times, Art +Auction, Village Voice, Modern Painters, Art in America, ArtForum, The New Yorker, BOMB, The Wall Street Journal, The Drama Review, Greater New York 2005, Performa: New Visual Art Performance, Rethinking Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education, and Why Art Photography?. He has written for exhibition catalogues, the New York Times, ArtForum, and Performing Arts Journal. His project Anthology is the subject of his first book.