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At the Walker, a broader and deeper view of Liz Larner’s work

“Liz Larner: Don’t Put it Back Like it Was” is co-organized with the Walker and the SculptureCenter in Queens, and many of the works in the exhibition draw you in to their dizzying patterns. 

Liz Larner, No M, No D, Only S & B, 1990.
Liz Larner, No M, No D, Only S & B, 1990.
Collection Walker Art Center, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2020

Liz Larner’s elegantly curved sculpture of mirrored stainless steel, “X” (2013), has greeted visitors entering the Walker Art Center since it was installed in 2016. Now, Walker visitors get a broader and deeper view of Larner’s work, in an exhibition called “Liz Larner: Don’t Put it Back Like it Was.” 

It’s co-organized with the Walker and the SculptureCenter in Queens, where the Walker’s executive director, Mary Ceruti, held the role of executive director and chief curator until 2019. The exhibition reached the Walker after first opening at the New York institution earlier this year. 

“I have been a fan of Liz’s work for years,” Ceruti says at a media preview. “We did end up talking about this exhibition while I was still director at the SculptureCenter.” That was about five years ago. At the time, she says, they had already been talking about partnering with the Walker, because “X” is such a significant piece by the artist. 

Having a larger amount of space at the Walker, the exhibition here is slightly bigger, Ceruti says, with five additional sculptures that weren’t on view when it was shown in Long Island. 

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First trained as a photographer, Larner moved into sculpture and installation due to her interest in physical space.

One early sculptural series, “Orchid, Buttermilk, Penny” (1987), was made up of two petri dishes filled with decaying organic materials. “These are the pieces that convinced me that Larner is one of the most radical artists alive,” Ceruti says. 

Introduced to the artist as someone interested in geometric forms and mathematics, Ceruti was excited by the focus on process in the petri dish works. “Embedded in a lot of her work is the relationship between nature and culture,” Ceruti says. “It makes you think about human culture as well as nature. We often make that a dichotomy, but to think about humans and our interactions in the world is part of our process.”

Liz Larner, 2 As 3 And Some, Too, 1997-98.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Liz Larner, 2 As 3 And Some, Too, 1997-98.
According to Ceruti, you really need to walk around Larner’s sculptures to experience them fully. Her works explore fundamental concepts of sculpture, including stability, color and form. She also investigates the notion of balance. 

One piece, “Wrapped Corner” (1991), made of chain, turnbuckles and steel bracket, hugs the corner of one gallery, almost as if suspended. “The balance here is a balance of strength,” Larner says of the piece.

Another corner piece, “Corner Basher” (1988), activates at the touch of a button, with the ball and chain spinning around until it smashes up against the gallery wall. 

According to Larner, the piece is about agency and activation, but also about deactiviation. 

Many of the works in the exhibition draw you in to their dizzying patterns, like “Reticule” (1999), a cast polyurethane piece that makes you think of barbed wire. “Lash Matt” (1989), looks like a strip of black fabric hanging on the wall and then folded onto the floor. Look closely, and you realize it’s made of false eyelashes made from human hair. The work is both alluring and grotesque, something that occurs in many of the works.

Liz Larner, Corner Basher, 1988.
Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann Collection, Herzogenrath and Berlin
Liz Larner, Corner Basher, 1988.
“I’m really drawn to the way Liz thinks about the body,” Ceruti says. “That heightened sense of bodies in space — it’s so enigmatic.” One work, “V” (planchette), has an imposing, curved shape. It conjures notions of the feminine body, and also the ferocity of a tsunami about to crash. 

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Larner painted the sculpture on Mulberry paper that’s wrapped around aluminum with an egg yolk tempera paint on top. “I had 40 egg yolks and a couple drops of clove oil and pigment,” Larner recalls. The paint doesn’t last, and she had to paint the coats of paint right away. When she first applied it, the layer of paint was very fragile, but in subsequent years it has hardened. “Over time it’s much stronger and more translucent,” she says, noting the underpainting is now visible beneath. “It looks better than it ever has,” she says. 

The final room of the exhibition, in the Perlman gallery, is called “Bird in Space,” and features a kind of web of Nylon cord, silk thread and stainless steel. It’s paired with another piece called “Out of Touch” (1987), a ball of wrapped surgical gauze. The works invite you in to live in their world for a while, pondering space, tension and the ties that bind us. “Liz Larner: Don’t Put it Back Like it Was,” runs through Sept. 4 at the Walker Art Center ($15). (More information here).