Interview by Christine Y. Kim
Images by Teal Thomsen
“I always feel like I give too much away! Perhaps there is something
about being born and raised analog that lies
at the center of this. Why would I want to give it all away?”
— Kori Newkirk
Born in the Bronx, Kori Newkirk is a Los Angeles-based multi-media artist. He has held solo shows at The Studio Museum in Harlem, LAXART and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Notable group exhibitions include the 2006 Whitney Biennial, DAK’ART (the Dakar Biennial, Senegal, 2006) and the traveling Uncertain States of America (2005-2006). His work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hammer Museum, MOCA Los Angeles and LACMA.
CHRISTINE Y. KIM
Christine Kim is Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA. She has worked to assemble major exhibitions, including James Turrell: A Retrospective (2013-14), which won Best Monographic Museum Exhibition in the US, as well as solo, group and permanent collection shows. From 2000 to 2008, Kim was Associate Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Known for his ever-evolving approach to painting, sculptural installation and photography, Bronx-born artist Kori Newkirk uninhibitedly explores cultural identity, black history and individual experience. His study of human landscapes and commerce has translated to a vast array of media—from artificial hair, pony beads and pomade to fiberglass and space-age materials. For his show opening at Los Angeles’ Roberts & Tilton Gallery, Newkirk turns his attention to the circle, examining its singular place in angular geometry, its human function as the wheel and the symbolic narratives that exist in both.
LACMA Associate Curator Christine Y. Kim first worked with Newkirk in 2001 in her former post at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The two discuss Newkirk’s evolving practice and his constant dedication to idea over form.
Christine Y. Kim: When and where was the last time you had a gallery solo show?
Kori Newkirk: My last gallery solo show was in 2013 in San Francisco with Jessica Silverman Gallery. My last solo show in LA was in 2010.
CYK: Have you been experimenting with different kinds of works, materials, etc. in your studio recently?
KN: My studio is always in a state of about 80% experimentation, and I’m constantly exploring new materials and ideas. It’s the only way that I know how to get what I want or what I think I want out of things. There are a lot of processes that have to occur before the questions and answers start to make sense. I’m continually trying to mess up my practice, to complicate my own understanding of what I make.
CYK: Could you give us a little preview of what to expect in your solo show at Roberts & Tilton in January?
KN: What I’m willing to share is that every solo show has been pretty different from the previous one, though there are some things that keep coming back. This time I decided to start thinking about things in a different way and to indulge my attraction to circles. I like circles. I like them as an idea. I like them as shape and form, as organic and geometric, and I’m interested in how and where we encounter them in the world. Circles have been showing up in my work for almost 20 years now in various incarnations (inclusive of arcs and balls…cousins of the circle). Circles are the things I tend to always think about, and the body, place, science, color and surface, among other things. I’d better stop there. I don’t want to give too much away yet.
“I like circles. I like them as an idea.
I like them as shape and form, as organic and
geometric, and I’m interested in how
and where we encounter them in the world.”
— Kori Newkirk
CYK: The repetition of circular forms in the ice skating works have been imprinted on my mind. For as long as I’ve known you and your work, your medium, scale, application and materiality shifts from one body of work to another, radically and yet seamlessly. It seems as though it’s almost built into your practice. In order to address your concerns—as you list: body, place, science, color and surface—you consistently have to integrate and change what you use and how you make the work. Are you moving from body to body of work without specific concern for the overall development of an idea, or do you see it as working toward something along the same trajectory, just in a different language?
KN: It sounds so awesome when you put it that way. There is always specific and major concern for the development of ideas as I move forward, and to me it’s all basically the same language. Perhaps there are accents and dialects at play, but at the end of it, it’s all the same language. The ideas drive the work and materials, mostly. Sometimes it’s the space or location driving, or it could be a response to something specific.
CYK: I also find your work incredibly personal, but you don’t talk about that much. In fact, you are a bit of a trickster in what you’ll give away.
KN: I’m not sure if I would relate it to a trickster, but I do prefer to be elusive. Yes, there are some personal things in the work. It’s interesting you say that, as I always feel like I give too much away! Perhaps there is something about being born and raised analog that lies at the center of this. Why would I want to give it all away?
CYK: Why do you always wear blue?
KN: I have always loved blue. I try to make everything blue. My couch, curtains, floor…my wardrobe. I asked for and got a blue “K” birthday cake when I was young. A few decades ago, when I was in high school, I tried wearing a lot of black, but was constantly asked if I was going to a funeral. I think it really started with a blue sweater in college that I thought made my shoulders look extra broad, and it’s been as much blue as necessary since then.
CYK: Your approach to production has spanned from the very laborious hand beading of micro-braids for curtains to the large-scale fabrication of a work like Helix, the ice fire escape installation from 2006.
KN: Yes, it’s a life-size, clear acrylic fire escape that hung from the ceiling. I’m not privy to the exact details on how it was made. That’s fabricator magic.
“I have always loved blue.
I try to make everything blue.
My couch, curtains, floor…
— Kori Newkirk
The second novel by Ralph Ellison following his groundbreaking first novel Invisible Man (1953), Juneteenth was published posthumously in 1999. Some 2,000 pages, written over 40 years, were found at the time of Ellison’s death in 1994, then edited by his literary executor.
Hilton Als (b. 1960) currently writes for The New Yorker and was formerly a staff writer for The Village Voice and editor-at-large for Vibe magazine. He has published two books: 1996’s The Women and 2013’s White Girls, a collection of essays which blur the line between criticism and memoir as they explore race, gender and identity.
CYK: So the “artist’s hands” are not necessarily important in making your work?
KN: To me, my hand is very important. Even when the work is fabricated by others, I think evidence of the making and residue of a human is crucial. I’m interested in what that means when we look at things and how that can be understood in terms of our humanity and bodies.
CYK: What was the last book you read or what are you reading now?
KN: Currently, I’m only reading PDFs about technical things related to the upcoming show. Fun, fun, fun. But just outside of that I am slowly working my way through Hilton Als’ White Girls and Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth again. Though the things I ‘read’ the most are my students and anyone who recently moved to Downtown LA.
CYK: White Girls is genius! I remember the first time we worked together, back in 2001, you made the pomade helicopter drawing on the lobby wall at the Studio Museum in Harlem as your contribution to the exhibition Freestyle. You had already been showing your work, but the group of artists and approach was new to the world. For you, what has become of the term post-black, and how might it apply to you or your work?
KN: I don’t spend much time thinking about that, which to me is very post-black.