Exhibitions

William J. O’Brien

Images

William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2007. Colored pencil and ink on paper; 62 × 42 in. (157.5 × 106.7 cm). Collection of Dana Westreich Hirt. © William J. O'Brien
Photo: Tom Van Eynde, courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2011. Colored pencil, graphite, and glitter on paper; 24 × 18 in. (61 × 45.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York. © William J. O'Brien
Photo: Jason Wyche, courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2011. Glazed ceramic; 18 × 9 x 14 in. (45.7 × 22.9 × 35.6 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. © William J. O'Brien
Photo: Tom Van Eynde, courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2012. Glazed ceramic; 18 × 13 × 15 in. (45.7 × 33 × 38.1 cm). Collection of Curt and Jennifer Conklin. © William J. O'Brien
Image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2011. Glazed ceramic; 14 ½ x 10 × 9 in. (36.8 × 25.4 × 22.9 cm). Collection of Howard and Donna Stone. © William J. O'Brien
Image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2012. Gouache, pencil, and ink on paper; 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm). Courtesy of the artist. © William J. O'Brien
Image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2011. Glazed ceramic; 21 × 9 x 11 in. (53.3 × 22.9 × 27.9 cm). Collection of Howard and Donna Stone. © William J. O'Brien
Photo: Tom Van Eynde, courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2012. Colored pencil, ink, and glitter on paper; 68 × 42 in. (172.7 × 106.7 cm). Collection of Anne Booth Dayton. © William J. O'Brien
Image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

About

William J. O’Brien, the artist’s first comprehensive museum exhibition, demonstrates his prolific output in a broad range of media, from sculpture and ceramics to drawing, textiles, and painting. Although O’Brien is perhaps best known for his work in ceramics, his working process often begins with the act of drawing. His works on paper usually feature exuberant colors and geometric patterning that mimic the automatic drawings of the Surrealists while faintly evoking psychedelia and dream paintings. His ceramics are playfully formed, often drizzled with vividly colored glazes, and exhibit a range of cultural references, from ethnographic objects of the ancient past to “face jugs” of the antebellum American South. His paintings are accumulations of pigment, fabric, string, and other materials that appear to droop toward the floor, and his sculptures of tenuously attached die-cut shapes, while stiff and upright, seem to create more negative space than positive forms. Altogether O’Brien’s work evidences the artist’s easy absorption of a broad range of narratives—art historical, ethnographic, spiritual, pop, poetic—as well as his singular ability to create objects that appear as distinctly enigmatic as they are aesthetically coherent.

Stemming from O’Brien’s interest in language and poetry, the exhibition is organized like a poem. It is divided into several sections, or stanzas, with each section featuring works in several media to underscore the connections between disparate objects as well as the artist’s interest in scale. The stanzas demonstrate how each of O’Brien’s artworks is a carefully calibrated exercise in improvisation and control. Above all, the exhibition develops new language around O’Brien’s contemporary abstract artworks—language that focuses on process rather than individual expression or technique and that considers his body of work as a reflection of a multitude of cultural sources.

O’Brien’s first artist’s monograph, produced by MCA Chicago, accompanies the show. Exhibition curator Naomi Beckwith and Peabody Essex Museum Curator of Contemporary Art Trevor Smith contextualize the artist’s work in light of recent modes in contemporary art history, such as l’informe, the handmade, and semiotics. Critic Jason Foumberg contributes a creative writing piece, aesthetically inspired by the artist’s working process.

This exhibition is organized by Naomi Beckwith, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Installation Images

Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Installation view, William J. O'Brien, MCA Chicago, Jan 25–May 18, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Funding

Support for William O'Brien is generously provided by the Margot and W. George Greig Ascendant Artist Fund. Lead support is also provided by Howard and Donna Stone. Major support is provided by R. H. Defares. Additional generous support is provided by Caryn and King Harris, Dirk Denison and David Salkin, Marilyn and Larry Fields, Ashlee and Martin Modahl, Heiji and Brian Black, the Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Laura De Ferrari and Marshall B. Front, Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper, Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson, Melissa Weber and Jay Dandy, Nancy and David Frej, Rodney Lubeznik and Susan D. Goodman, Aviva Samet and James Matanky, Marianne Boesky Gallery, Phillips, Shane Campbell Gallery, and Louis Vuitton Chicago.

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