Artist Profile: Sam Durant

Sam Durant, Geography Lesson (Top Ten Places for Tax Evasion and Money Laundering), 2011. Photo courtesy of Artist’s Website.

He in unabashedly political. And yet appropriately unemotional.

Sam Durant is a multimedia artist who engages gallery spaces, online platforms and traditional book publications through a socially minded practice. He is moved to elucidate history and propagate entropy, while maintaining an aesthetic that is modern, conceptual and streamlined. His care for the social is emblematic of his artistic process, allowing these two dichotomies to feed one another and produce important works that continue to grow in nuance.

Scaffold, 2012. Wood, metal; 33.73′ x 47.47′ x 51.77′; Photo credit: Rosa Maria Ruehling; Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13). Photo courtesy of artist’s website.

A graduate (and now professor) of the California Institute of the Arts, Durant’s themes have varied between southern rock music, the civil rights movement and modernism itself. Recent projects look at institutions, revolutions, public spaces and mapping. All of which inevitably become intertwined into a larger conversation about the current state of the public. 

Screengrab of, part of What #isamuseum?
Screengrab of, part of What #isamuseum?. Photo courtesy of the artist’s website.

In What #isamuseum?, the artist creates a webpage engaging questions about the contemporary nature of the institution. Five questions are posed: “Is a museum a school? Is a museum truthful? Is a museum fun? Is a museum political? Is a museum for everyone?” The public is invited to answer the questions, read responses and engage. Overall, they are asked to think about the institution itself, rather than what it may hold or possess or represent. The project is a brilliant beginning in expanding a conversation that may be common in critical contemporary art circles, but is rarely asked of the public. 

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Foreground: Proposal for Public Fountain; Background: Public Engagement 1; Public Engagement 2; Public Engagement 3, 2013. Installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2013. Photo courtesy of artist’s website.

In contrast to What #isamuseum?, Durant’s Proposal for Public Fountain, 2013 is less open ended. Installed at the Sadie Coles HQ in London, the centerpiece is a sculptural installation depicting a water truck shooting at a lone figure running in the opposite direction. Further documentation or “studies” show photographs of recent revolutionary uprisings – protesters in the street, throwing rocks or waving flags, a water truck aiming for their bodies. Though entirely contemporary, the installation conjures historical images from the civil rights movement or even the French Revolution. Ironically manipulating language and image, Durant reminds us of the power of memory and the importance of re-historicizing signifiers.   

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Sam Durant, Study for Public Fountain (Rome), 2013. Installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2013; Set of eight inkjet prints; 118.6 cm x 673.6 cm. Photo courtesy of artist’s website.

Further Resources:

Read: “The Time of the Now,” by Mary Leclère, Guernica, 2005. 


Listen: Interview with Sam Durant 


All photographs featured on this page are courtesy of Sam Durant’s website and are copyrighted to the artist. 

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