Karyn Olivier’s artistic practice merges multiple histories and collective memory with present-day narratives. Through the slight manipulation of familiar objects and spaces, such as coffee tables, playground slides, or grocery stores, the artist re-contextualizes the viewer’s relationship to the ordinary. Questioning what we presume to be the function or facts of an object or space, she asks us to reconcile memory with conventional meanings, ultimately revealing contradictions as well as new possibilities and ideas. Olivier’s work often reflects on public versus private space, recalling communal nostalgias connected to social and physical experiences and how those phenomena relate to inclusivity and acceptance.
How we interact with and dissect conflicting narratives and their representation in art are core elements of Olivier’s practice. Actively engaged in reinterpreting the role of monuments, the artist has created both temporary and permanent sculptures and installations for the public. With recurring themes of absence, invisibility and displacement, often embedded in the viewing experience itself, the artist intervenes in ‘blind spots’ — unseen and unconsidered spaces — drawing attention to the periphery. Tethering the formidable and fragile, melancholy and hope, Olivier’s work echoes the tension that exists in our shifting personal and civic lives.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1968, and raised in the United States, Olivier received an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a BA at Dartmouth College.
This year Olivier received the RAIR (Recycled Artists in Residency) Fellowship Residency. She has been the recipient of the Rome Prize (2018), the New York Foundation for the Arts Award (2011), the William H. Johnson Prize (2010), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2007), the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2007), and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award (2003).
Important solo exhibitions include Everything That’s Alive Moves at Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (2020), traveling to University of Buffalo Art Gallery, and A Closer Look at Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis (2007). The artist’s work was featured in the Busan Biennial, Korea (2006) and Gwangju Biennial (2008). Olivier’s work has also been included in notable group exhibitions at the Ulrich Museum of Art (2013); World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures in Dakar, Senegal (2010); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2007); Whitney Museum of Art, New York (2006); Studio Museum in Harlem (2005); MoMA P.S.1 (2005); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2004); SculptureCenter, New York (2004), and Mattress Factory (2006), among others.
Olivier has a long career of working in the realm of public art. In 2018, the artist unveiled Witness, a permanent commission at the University of Kentucky recontextualizing previous artworks and histories on the university’s campus. The previous year, Olivier completed a large-scale commissioned work, The Battle is Joined, for Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program in historic Vernon Park. In 2015, she created a site-specific work in New York City’s Central Park for the Creative Time exhibition Drifting in Daylight, as well as a permanent sculpture for Long Island City’s Hunter Point South Park entitled Tetherball Monument,sponsored by NYC’s Percent for Art program. More recently, Olivier was selected to create a new memorial at Stenton Park in Philadelphia, honoring Dinah, a former enslaved woman who saved an historic mansion from burning by the British in the revolutionary war. This forthcoming work is set to be unveiled in November of 2020.
Karyn Olivier’s work can be found in the permanent collections of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and The Studio Museum of Harlem.
Karyn Olivier will have her first solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York in 2021.