On September 6, Lehmann Maupin opened its sixth gallery at 501 West 24th Street. The Peter Marino-designed space—complete with 22-foot ceilings, a skylight, and a curved staircase connecting the two floors—was inaugurated with works by artists like Terestita Fernández, Do Ho Suh, and Liza Lou. On the first floor, Lou’s striking new exhibition, “Liza Lou: Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds,” spans the wall. The large-scale work, originally seen on a smaller scale at the 21st Biennale of Sydney, is made up of 600 beaded-woven panels.
For over a decade, Lou has worked between Los Angeles and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Recently, she also has begun working with a women’s prison in Belém, Brazil. To acknowledge the importance of understanding time, suffering, and strength, Lou’s work with these women led her to “The Clouds” is today—panels of beads, some smashed off by hammer, to expose its beautiful woven layers underneath. “I thought I was going to make a work with the women [in Brazil], but instead I’ve made a body of work that’s informed by that experience,” said Lou when we spoke to her over the phone.
“The women I work with have taught me so much about what it is to be truly alive,” said Lou. “In the early days of working together, many of women that I worked with came from truly nothing—in ways that would cripple us in the Western world. I see the dignity with which they carry themselves. And that is an incredible lesson and privilege to be around.”
From afar, we see the work’s title come to life. Clouds of lightly-colored glass beads float along the wall. Up close, though, we see the labor of the women Lou works so closely with. And that, Lou emphasizes, is truly the beauty of it all.
“I think that beauty is a political act,” added Lou. “I think that to make something beautiful, to stand up for beauty, is a powerful, powerful thing. And to try to find or make beauty in an abject situation is really a fundamental thing that’s saying, ‘I’m alive. I am this moment that I find myself in. And in this situation—how can I make it beautiful?’”
“Liza Lou: Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds” is on view at Lehmann Maupin through October 27.