Carnegie Museum of Art opens fall exhibition 'Wild Life: Elizabeth Murray & Jessi Reaves'
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Carnegie Museum of Art opens fall exhibition 'Wild Life: Elizabeth Murray & Jessi Reaves'
Jessi Reaves, Idol of the Hares, 2014. Oak, polyurethane foam, silk, cotton, aluminum, and ink, 38 × 28 × 48 inches. Collection Sam and Erin Falls, Los Angeles, California.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art announces Wild Life: Elizabeth Murray & Jessi Reaves, on view through January 9, 2022. Bringing together the work of Elizabeth Murray (1940–2007) and Jessi Reaves (b. 1986), this traveling exhibition highlights how both artists—practicing generations apart—have critically engaged with the decorative, the domestic, and the bodily.

Taking the form of two surveys and a two-person exhibition, Wild Life travels to Pittsburgh from Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) where it debuted in January 2021. Organized by Rebecca Matalon, CAMH Curator, the show presents Murray’s paintings from the 1960s to the 2000s, chronicling the artist’s exploration of the domestic sphere through surrealism, abstraction, and compositional experimentation, alongside a selection of Reaves’s sculptural assemblages from the last seven years. The presentation includes two additional paintings by Murray and four additional sculptures by Reaves from Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection.

While forty-six years separate the births of Elizabeth Murray and Jessi Reaves, there are intriguing connections in their work that reveal Murray’s lasting influence and historically contextualizes Reaves. Like Murray, Reaves’s work avoids easy categorization, instead offering nuanced and often ambiguous three-dimensional conceptions of the body and the home, wherein both are continuously coming together and falling apart. In their questioning of so-called “good taste,” Murray and Reaves elevate and emphasize the aesthetic value of the “detail”—historically associated with the ornamental, the domestic, and the everyday, and thus the feminine.

“We are thrilled to present Wild Life: Elizabeth Murray & Jessie Reaves at Carnegie Museum of Art. This important exhibition presents a cross-generational dialogue between two admired and unconventional artists, whose individual practices we see in an entirely new light thanks to curator Rebecca Matalon," says Eric Crosby, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art. “Carnegie Museum of Art has collected works by both artists over time as a result of their participation in past Carnegie Internationals. This imaginative exhibition will allow our visitors to discover new connections between the artists and deepen their enjoyment of contemporary painting and sculpture.”

Murray is best known for her monumental, fractured canvases depicting cartoonish, domestic scenes and still lifes. Her earliest works from the late 1960s reflect the influences of surrealism and pop, as well as the work of peers now associated with the Hairy Who and Bay Area Funk movements. Murray then turned to a reduced visual language of gestural and geometric abstraction. However, she never entirely abandoned representational imagery, nor the subject of the domestic sphere, as her paintings from the early 1970s attest. Over time, Murray’s shapes expanded beyond the surface of her compositions to form the frame. In 1980, the canvases—now massive in scale—cracked open into multi-paneled paintings depicting splintering cups, kitchen tables, and fragmented body parts, eventually leading to Murray’s signature, monumental constructions of overlapping and interpenetrating shaped canvases.

Despite the significant critical reception Murray received during her lifetime, her work remains an outlier of sorts, resisting affiliation with a singular historical movement or style. Additionally, her influence on recent generations of artists, as well as her significant impact on broader conversations regarding the daily and domestic, remain under-examined.

Reaves’s eccentric, garish, and surreal sculptures made of ripped, recombined, and reupholstered amalgamations of couches and chairs—often by noted modernist designers such as Marcel Breuer and Isamu Noguchi—extend Murray’s own cartoonish plays into three dimensions. Sumptuous and grotesque in equal measure, Reaves’s work both literally and figuratively performs a process of undoing, a laying bare, or laying to waste, of the modernist ideal of form following function. Her often discomfiting assemblages occupy a space between sculpture and furniture, as they puzzle out and defy a history in which ornament (or craft)—traditionally associated, and pejoratively so, with “women’s work”—and modernist design are assumed irreconcilable. Reaves, like Murray, irreverently plays with color and form, high and low cultural references, and notions of masculinity and femininity.

Wild Life: Elizabeth Murray & Jessi Reaves is accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalogue, co-published by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and Dancing Foxes Press. The illustrated publication features an essay by Matalon, a conversation between Reaves and writer and musician Johanna Fateman, as well as a reprinted conversation between Murray and editor and filmmaker Kate Horsfield, originally published in a 1986 issue of Profile magazine.

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