Liza Lou’s recent work Continuous Mile, an ambitious and engaging large-scale sculpture made of gleaming white beads, went on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 23, 2009. The work is a two-year loan from the artist and is on display on the second floor of the Museum’s Lila Acheson Wallace Wing for modern and contemporary art.
Continuous Mile (2007–2008) is comprised of a mile-long length of rope—woven entirely of tiny white glass beads and cotton—that has been coiled into a free-standing sculpture, approximately 77 inches in diameter and 32 inches in height. The sculpture was made by the artist and her team of South African studio assistants employing a traditional Zulu bead technique. It is exquisitely hand-wrought while simultaneously provocative, manifesting the social concerns that run throughout the artist’s work.
Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Chairman of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, commented: “Visitors are immediately captivated by the beauty of the coiled rope, then held captive by all the different associations that the piece evokes. We are very grateful to the artist for the loan of this most arresting work of art.”
Liza Lou (b. 1969), who lives and works in South Africa and Los Angeles, is best known for the signature medium in which she works: glass beads. Lou first gained recognition from two painstakingly made and colorfully beaded environments that comment on women’s role in society and suburban American culture: Kitchen (1991–1995), a life-size beaded kitchen replete with appliances, breakfast cereals, cherry pie, and a sink with flowing faucet; and Back Yard (1995–1997), a heavily laden picnic table amid a swath of lawn.
In recent years, the subject matter and thematic content of Lou’s work have grown more pointed and ominous—with references to warfare and military oppression—and convey a political message, while remaining rooted in feminist thought and dedicated to Minimalism.
Lou, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, currently works on her labor-intensive beaded sculptures with a team of South African men and women from various townships in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the home of highly skilled Zulu bead-workers. The names of the 44 artisans who collaborated on the year-long making of Continuous Mile are listed on a gallery wall label adjacent to the sculpture.
Metropolitan Museum of Art