Aria Dean, Installation view, Figuer Sucia, Greene Naftali, New York, 2023
The Los Angeles-born artist and writer Aria Dean has created a multi-platform body of work based in trenchant critiques of representational systems. Confounding binaries such as abstraction and figuration, individual and collective, Dean’s sculptures, installations, videos, and essays trouble received ideas of race, power, and form. Concerned with what art objects can do, and have done, for their producers and receivers, Dean tracks artistic innovations against an array of theoretical positions, from poststructuralism to Afropessimism, not just to parse the social and material bases of art but also to grasp its impact on the ontology of Blackness. Her visual and intellectual provocations often build upon—and challenge—touchstones of contemporary art, from Robert Smithson and Robert Morris to Ulysses Jenkins and Lorna Simpson. Minimalism has proven especially fertile for Dean: “insofar as minimalism evades the representational sphere almost entirely,” she writes, “pure play of forms and volumes and densities—it’s like having an amusement park all to myself, with the lights out.”
A recent group of 3D-printed silicone sculptures—Dean calls them “impossible objects”—take Morris’s Box with the Sound of Its Own Making as their starting point. Dexterous with new media, Dean uses modeling software to embed the box in a dense assemblage of forms, some of them born-digital and others derived from artistic or commercial sources. Mingling historical interests with up-to-the-minute digital techniques, these artworks—like many others by Dean, such as a series of eerie mirrored silhouettes and a caged video installation shown at the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. 2020—betray a sly sense of humor as they unsteady our perception, refusing to cohere as either copy or original, or as any single material.
Like her growing roster of peculiar objects, which have featured in shows at international venues including Centre d’Art Contemporaine Genève and Schinkel Pavillon, Dean’s theoretical practice—expounded in her own writing and in the journal November, which she edits—demonstrate a capacious but cogent project, enmeshed within and critical of the art systems through which she maneuvers.
Aria Dean (b. 1993) lives and works in New York. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions and performances include The Renaissance Society, Chicago (2023); Greene Naftali, New York (2023, 2021); CAPC, Bordeaux (2023); REDCAT, Los Angeles (2021); Artists Space, New York (2020); Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva (2019); and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (2018). Significant group shows include the Whitney Biennial: Quiet As It's Kept (2022); the Hammer Museum's biennial Made in L.A. 2020: a version (2021); the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2019); The MAC, Belfast, Northern Ireland (2019); Tai Kwun, Hong Kong (2019); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2018); Swiss Institute, New York (2018); and the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2017), among others.
Her writing has appeared in publications including Artforum, Art in America, e-flux, The New Inquiry, X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Spike Quarterly, Kaleidoscope Magazine, Texte zur Kunst, CURA Magazine, and November. A volume of her collected writings was published by Sternberg Press in 2023. Dean's work is in the collection of the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.