Reorienting Sari Dienes: A Conversation with Alexis Lowry Murray and Delia Solomons

On December 16, 2014, Marci Kwon sat down with Alexis Lowry Murray and Delia Solomons, who co-curated the exhibition Sari Dienes at the Drawing Center. All are PhD candidates at the IFA.

Sari Dienes, NYC, ca. 1953-1955. Ink on webril, 36 x 72 in. Private collection of Pamela Jarvis, NY. Image courtesy Sari Dienes Foundation. Licensed by Vaga, New York, NY.
Sari Dienes, NYC, ca. 1953-1955. Ink on webril, 36 x 72 in. Private collection of Pamela Jarvis, NY. Image courtesy Sari Dienes Foundation. Licensed by Vaga, New York, NY.

MK: To begin, how did you come up with the idea for the show? And what was it like putting it together?

ALM: It was surprisingly simple. While researching Jasper Johns, I came across Sari as a side note in the catalogue for the Jasper Johns retrospective, organized by Kirk Varnedoe. Delia and I had been talking about curating a show together, and think I waited only twenty minutes before I talked to her about it. We looked up the Sari Dienes Foundation website, and were immediately interested in the rubbings she made, and the indexicality of that process. We made an appointment to go to the Foundation – we simply called their phone number – and when we got there it was instantly clear to both of us that an exhibition was the best idea. We had gone up to the Foundation open-endedly–for a moment I even thought about doing a dissertation on Sari–but we immediately knew an exhibition was best.

DS: The works looked incredible in person–really delicate and yet with this substantial scale. While examining them in the barn, we instantly pictured them on white walls in a gallery or museum space in New York, back in the urban context where she originally made these works.

MK: You first saw them in a barn?

ALM: Sari’s work is housed in a barn that is cared for by her Foundation. Barbara, the curator of the Foundation, and her husband Rip live in upstate New York where Sari used to live. Sari used to work in the Foundation’s barn, and it is literally chock-full of art.

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Unfurling Sari Dienes

The exhibition of Sari Dienes’s work at The Drawing Center (on view October 8 to November 16, 2014) highlighted the artist’s innovative and experimental approaches to mark making in her large-scale rubbings of New York City streets from the 1950s. On November 13, the curators of the exhibition (and current PhD candidates at the IFA), Alexis Lowry Murray and Delia Solomons, led a public tour that introduced Dienes’s work by examining the dynamic interplays of processes and textures in her drawings. During the tour, Solomons and Lowry Murray gave context to Dienes’s practice by underscoring her creative exchanges with contemporaries such as Jasper Johns and John Cage. Following the tour, artists Alison Knowles and Gillian Jagger talked with NYU’s Julia Robinson about their mutual interests in using found forms and textures from natural and urban landscapes in their work.

Peter Moore, photograph of Sari Dienes demonstrating the street rubbing process, 1970. Gelatin silver print, 6.5 x 9.75 in.
Peter Moore, photograph of Sari Dienes demonstrating the street rubbing process, 1970. Gelatin silver print, 6.5 x 9.75 in.

Sari Dienes (1898—1992) was born in Hungary and was a student of Purists Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. By 1936, she was Assistant Director of Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts in London. She moved to New York City in 1939 where she soon befriended artists both established (Mark Rothko) and emerging (Johns and Cage, as well as Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, and others), many of whose names are listed in pages from the guest book from her studio. On Thursday night, Lowry Murray and Solomons emphasized Dienes’s willingness to experiment with found materials and new processes, and her subversive recoding of established notions of the authorial gesture, qualities that are as important today as they were to Dienes and her contemporaries as seen, for example, in the work of Ray Johnson, Rachel Whiteread, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

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