Henrik Oleson, The Walk (installation view, The Wattis Institute), 2017

CCA Wattis Institute presents Henrik Olesen: The Walk, a solo exhibition of new and existing work

Exhibition marks the Berlin-based conceptual artist's most comprehensive solo exhibition to-date at a U.S. institution

On view March 16 through May 14, 2017

San Francisco, Calif., February 14, 2017 — New work by Henrik Olesen will debut at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts this spring as part of Henrik Olesen: The Walk (March 16 through May 14, 2017), the Berlin-based conceptual artist’s most comprehensive solo exhibition to date at a US institution. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, also includes a selection of existing works spanning the past five years of Olesen’s practice.

Olesen (b. 1967, Esbjerg, Denmark) is best known for his spatial interventions, collage work, mixed-media sculptures, and text-based pieces that explore power structures and social constructions of identity. His intensively researched projects address subjects such as political normalization, codes of law, natural sciences, distribution of wealth, and the relationship between man and machine.

The conventions and criminalization of homosexuality are recurring interests for Olesen. Past works have involved compilations of sodomy laws from around the world (Lack of Information, 2001); an atlas of rarely acknowledged expressions of same-sex desire or affection in Western art history (Some Faggy Gestures, 2008); and an imagined portrait of British mathematician Alan Turing, who, despite being credited with inventing the modern computer, was also persecuted for his sexual orientation (How Do I Make Myself a Body, 2009).

Individuals such as Turing often become departure points for Olesen’s expansive bodies of work: two concurrent exhibitions in 2016 (at Galerie Buchholz and Reena Spaulings Fine Art in New York) centered on writings by the American author Samuel R. Delany, whose science fiction novel Dhalgren is set in an apocalyptic future where a drifter searches to forge an identity for himself that ignores traditional divisions of race and gender.

For Olesen’s Wattis Institute exhibition—organized by Wattis director and chief curator Anthony Huberman—Olesen brings together two extant bodies of work and two new ones (made for this occasion) to create a site-specific installation.

The exhibition takes its name from and continues Olesen’s exploration of The Walk, a 1917 novella by the Swiss author Robert Walser about a poet/protagonist who wanders through an unnamed countryside and chronicles his encounters with various people—a professor, a banker, a bookseller, a former actress. The exchanges seem minor but become symbols of larger ideas in the narrative, which often equates walking with the act of creation. The title also refers to the gallery architecture of the exhibition itself, which will feature a series of walls—some finished and some left unpainted—that create individual passageways into each body of work, allowing viewers to encounter them one at a time.

Henrik Olesen: The Walk opens with two large-scale pieces on unstretched canvas (Hysterical Men I and Hysterical Men 2) and related works on paper that Olesen first presented in 2013 at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin. The Hysterical Men pieces—each more than 20 feet long—include scattered images of celebrities and other headline-making figures of notoriety, including former prime minister of England Tony Blair; former International Monetary Fund chief, the scandal-plagued Dominique Strauss-Kahn; popes Benedict XVI and Frances; pardoned Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning; and Karima El Mahroug (aka Ruby Rubacuori), the Moroccan escort involved with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. “Set against the backdrop of the recent US presidential election and its fallout,” says Huberman, “these works further complicate notions of leadership and indiscretion.”

A second section features a series of black-on-black collages on wood panels Olesen made for the 2016 Sao Paulo Biennial that deconstruct modern imaginings of darkness, hell, and “inferno,” such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy. A third section includes a new series of what the artist refers to as “screw paintings,” which feature grids of metal screws attached to canvas with globs of hot glue. According to Huberman, they “push the cleanliness and order of the modernist grid toward something messier and dirtier.” The final section is a cabinlike wooden construction, situated at the center of the gallery, that contains a range of additional new works and serves as the “brain” of the project as well as the conclusion to the viewer’s “walk” through the exhibition.

Dirt is a word that brings together the many strands of Olesen’s work,” says Huberman. “He adds dirt to the neatness and sexlessness of conceptual art. He is drawn to surfaces that are rough, scarred, deformed, and uneven, and takes the so-called clean boundaries of cultural dualities such as man/woman, hetero/homo, normal/abnormal and dirties them up.”

About Henrik Olesen

Henrik Olesen (b. 1967, Esbjerg, Denmark) studied at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and the Städelschule in Frankfurt. The first retrospective of his work was presented at Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Basel (2010–11). Recent solo exhibition venues include the Museum of Modern Art, New York (single installation; 2011); Lugwig, Cologne (2012), Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne (2013 and 2016), and Reena Spaulings Fine Art (2016). Notable group exhibitions include the 2016 Sao Paulo Biennial, Massimilliano Gioni's The Keeper at the New Museum, New York (2016), and the 2013 Venice Biennale, among others.

About the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

Founded in 1998 at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and located a few blocks from its campus, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts is a nonprofit exhibition venue and research institute dedicated to contemporary art and ideas. As an exhibition space, it commissions and shows new work by emerging and established artists from around the world. Recent solo exhibitions include Howard Fried: Derelicts; Laura Owens: Ten Paintings; Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Tram 3 (which traveled to MoMA PS1); Josephine Pryde: Lapses in Thinking by the Person I Am (which traveled to ICA Philadelphia and earned Pryde a 2016 Turner Prize nomination); Sam Lewitt: More Heat Than Light (which traveled to Kunsthalle Basel and the Swiss Institute, New York); and Ellen Cantor: Cinderella Syndrome (which traveled to Künstlerhaus Stuttgart).

As a research institute, the Wattis dedicates an entire year to reflecting on the work of a single artist, which informs a regular series of public programs and publications involving the field’s most prominent artists and thinkers. The current featured artist is David Hammons; past seasons featured Joan Jonas and Andrea Fraser. For more information, visit wattis.org.

About California College of the Arts

Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) educates the creative leaders of tomorrow to make powerful contributions to society. CCA’s distinctive project-based educational model emphasizes interdisciplinary experimentation, risk-taking, and innovation.

CCA offers a rich curriculum of 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate programs in art, design, architecture, and writing taught by a faculty of expert practitioners and attracts promising students from across the United States and from 54 countries around the world. Graduates are highly sought after by companies such as Pixar/Disney, Apple, Intel, Facebook, Gensler, Google, IDEO, Autodesk, Mattel, and Nike, and many have launched their own successful businesses. For more information, visit cca.edu.

The exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Danish Arts Council, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.

The CCA Wattis Institute program is generously supported by the Grants for the Arts / San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; by Leadership contributors Patricia W. Fitzpatrick, Daniel and Manizeh Rimer, Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg, and Sonya Yu and Zack Lara; and by CCA Wattis Institute’s Curator’s Forum. Phyllis C. Wattis was the generous founding patron.


CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts presents
Henrik Olesen: The Walk, a solo exhibition of new and existing work
March 16 through May 14, 2017
Opening reception: Thursday, March 16, 6:30–8:30 p.m.

Location: 360 Kansas Street (between 16th and 17th Streets), San Francisco
Gallery hours: Tues.–Fri., noon–7 p.m.; Sat., noon–5 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.
Admission: Free
Information: 415.355.9673