Tavares Strachan: Always, Sometimes, Never

January 27 – April 15, 2018

New York-based conceptual artist Tavares Strachan explores aspects of science, art, and the environment to create works that are ambitious in scale and scope. Many of his projects investigate the nature of invisibility, calling into question the conditions that frame and legitimize certain cultural knowledge and histories while obscuring and erasing others. Always, Sometimes, Never places his sculptures and collages within and alongside pools of water, echoing the ways in which Seattle has been shaped geographically and culturally by its rainfall and waterways. By symbolically flooding the museum, Strachan brings submerged histories to the surface and transforms the gallery into a space of actual and conceptual reflection.

Strachan aims to build and connect communities through his work by making networks of power more visible, prompting viewers to reconsider their social roles at the local and global levels. The perceived authority of language is the subject of Us, We, Them (2015) and I Belong Here (2011), neon sculptures that question declarations of affiliation, locality, and identity. A Children’s History of Invisibility (2017) highlights topics often overlooked by society, creating an A-to-Z index of underknown histories.

Overlooked figures are also brought forward in a series of collaged portraits, including Queen Min (2016– 17), the nineteenth-century Korean empress; Butch Morris (2015–16), the twentieth-century musical innovator; and Tenzing Norgay (2015–16), the Tibetan mountaineer. Their biographies remain largely unknown, yet their cultural influence has been broad and complex. Seated Panchen Lama (2011) renders the cardiovascular system of the missing spiritual leader in glass; through its delicate transparency, the sculpture evokes the invisibility of the figure it depicts.

The pools that serve as a setting for these works enhance and distort each piece, complicating viewers’ ability to see and discern. Water, as a mechanism of both flow and hindrance, is an apt symbol within Strachan’s larger project of scrutinizing how reality is perceived and defined. With each element, Always, Sometimes, Never points to what remains unseen, extending an invitation to dig deeper and explore what lies beyond what we already know.

Tavares Strachan was born in 1979 in Nassau, Bahamas. He received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied glass, and an MFA in sculpture from Yale University. His focus on absence and presence led him to stage Seen/Unseen (2011), an exhibition of past and new work in an undisclosed location never open to the public. In 2013 Strachan represented the Bahamas in the nation’s inaugural pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.

Tavares Strachan: Always, Sometimes, Never is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Erica Barrish and Tavares Strachan. Generous support is provided by Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, BNY Mellon, ArtsFund, the Frye Foundation, and Frye Art Museum members. Media sponsorship is provided by The Stranger.

Tavares Strachan. Installation view of I Belong Here, 2011. White neon, transformers. Photo: Mark Woods.

Tavares Strachan. Installation view of Queen Min (from the Constellation series) (detail), 2016–17. Mylar, collage, pigment, graphite, mounted to white translucent acrylic. Photo: Mark Woods.

Tavares Strachan. Installation view of A Children’s History of Invisibility, 2017. Pigment, collage, vinyl, on matte Moab paper, mounted on Sintra, encased in acrylic. Photo: Mark Woods.

Tavares Strachan. Us, We, Them, 2015. White, grey, black neon, transformers. Photo: Mark Woods.