Kennedy Yanko: Humming on Life
Through April 22, 2023
By MICHAEL WOLF, April 2023
On a hot summer day in 2017, Kennedy Yanko and I planned to meet at her Brooklyn studio for an interview. Things didn't go as planned. I was installing artwork on Governors Island. The installation took longer than expected; I missed the ferry, and the GPS told me traffic was heavy, so we decided to reschedule the meeting for a later date. It took six years, but I finally caught up with Kennedy in Florida via Zoom to talk about her solo exhibition Humming on Life at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery. A lot has happened in the world and with Yanko's career since 2017. Yanko has had ten solo shows, was selected to participate in the prestigious residency program at the Rubell Museum, exhibited her work at the Parrish Art Museum in a show curated by Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont, was included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and Art Basel Switzerland and has an upcoming solo show at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg.
During the interview, we discussed her exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery on Wooster St. The gallery is a vast open space divided into three levels, street level, the "stage," and up a flight of stairs, the "mezzanine." Yanko's work is thoughtfully placed and lit throughout the gallery. It is rare to experience artwork and exhibition space so harmoniously integrated. Upon entering the gallery, one encounters a quote by John Cage, giving us a hint about the show's title. "There is no such thing as silence, get thee to an anechoic chamber and hear there thy nervous system in operation and there thy blood in circulation." Yanko believes there is a vibration and hum to life. Interestingly or ironically, on the wall opposite the Cage quote hangs the sculpture "What we re-quire is...silence," a massive crumpled metal sculpture with Yanko's signature "paint skins" draped over and through the metal. Yanko was a painter before she turned to sculpture. Her experience is evident in this sculpture. The metal she collects from scrap yards shows traces of the original color but is painted over and distressed by the artist. The paint skins are made by pouring paint in layers and then draping them onto the metal. The paint skins appear soft and supple but dry to a rigid permanent material. John Chamberlain famously used crumbled scrap metal in his work; however, with Yanko's color sensibility and addition of paint skins, she has made the medium her own. In addition to the sculptures, there is an audio component to the exhibition. Yanko recorded sounds of her working the metal, which she provided to composer Samuel Kareem Baptist who created soundscapes for each sculpture. The soundscapes are accessible via QR codes placed near the sculptures.
Yanko created a variety of complex forms with twisted and bent metal. Many are wall hung, while others are free-standing. The sculptures Sing to her, Pink and green music, and Ode to Hugs have welcoming womb-like forms. Pink and green music has a uterine form with a pink paint skin. Walking up a few steps to the "stage" level of the gallery is Ode to Hugs, one of the largest sculptures in the show. With a mastery of stagecraft and lighting, the heavy sculpture appears almost weightless and floating in space. The two gallery levels are connected and divided by a piece of yellow string stretched from floor to ceiling in a V shape that Yanko refers to as shadow perspective. I climbed a full flight of stairs to the "mezzanine" level of the gallery. I was surprised by a different type of sculptural form draped with a black paint skin. The sculpture Collective Haum is a closed form turned away from the viewer as if its back is turned toward us, turning away from life. Is it a visual metaphor for death? I turned away from the sculpture to survey the other sculptures from the high vantage point overlooking the gallery and wondered if Yanko had just taken me on a metaphysical journey from womb to tomb. Did the humming stop here?
Kennedy Yanko’s Humming on Life continues at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery 18 Wooster St., NYC through April 22nd. There will be an artist talk with Kennedy Yanko and Alteronce Gumby on Thursday April 20th at 6:30pm. WM
Michael Wolf is an NYC area artist whose work encompasses sculpture, installation, and drawing. Inspired by architectural forms, he uses them as a metaphor for the human experience. He has written for the platform Art Zealous and curated digital collections for the app Ask Arthur. For more information visit: http://www.michaelwolfsculpture.com/view all articles from this author