West Coast Premiere of Maria Gaspar: Compositions


 | September 20, 2023

UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences Presents
Imagining What Can Be Built From the End Of Incarceration

Maria Gaspar: Compositions Tuesday, September 26, 2023 – March 3, 2024.
Opening Celebration: Friday, October 6, 6 – 8 p.m.
Artist Talk and Performance: Saturday, October 7, 4-5:30 p.m.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – California Central Coast’s premier space for
contemporary art, UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences, is pleased to
announce the opening of a new exhibition this fall.

Maria Gaspar: Compositions is the first West Coast solo exhibition by the Chicago-based,
Guggenheim-winning artist. Bringing together newly commissioned and existing artworks
engaging the demolition of a wing of the Cook County Department of Corrections, the largest
single-site jail in the United States, Compositions forms complex questions of how debris from
the jail’s destruction might, through collaboration and social transformation, become the building
material for a liberated world.

“Compositions introduces our audiences to existing artwork by this important, award-winning
artist, and also a new, major series of sculpture created for Visualizing Abolition, our thematic
programming on prisons and abolition,” explains Dr. Rachel Nelson, director of the Institute and
co-curator of the exhibition. “Asked to think about the relationship between art and prison
activism, Maria has offered us aesthetically rich acts of alchemy, transfiguring materials that
were made to confine – like iron prison bars and concrete walls – into that which can create a
new, more just society.”

With large-scale sculptures of demolition equipment, delicate hole-strewn works-on-paper, a 60-
hour time-lapse video of the bulldozing of the Cook County Jail building, paintings of a
cloud-filled sky, and other works, Compositions offers an immersive environment in which to
reflect – and act – on the artist’s provocations. The exhibition is accompanied by a selection of
short films developed through the artist’s collaborations with people incarcerated. Throughout
the exhibition’s duration, sculptural renderings of the jail’s fragments will be sonically and
visually activated through performances. The acclaimed composer and theorist James Gordon
Williams, assistant professor of music at UC Santa Cruz, will perform an improvised musical
piece using the jail’s iron bars on October 7, 4-5:30 p.m. and the artist will speak about her
practice. Workshops with the artist will also be held, with dates TBA.

Also on view at the Institute is Sadie Barnette: Family Business, a multi-sited exhibition
organized with the San José Museum of Art (SJMA) that explores the artist’s family history to
reveal the personal—and shared—experience of Black repression and resistance in the United

Maria Gaspar: Compositions and Sadie Barnette: Family Business are part of the major public
scholarship program, Visualizing Abolition, an ongoing initiative exploring art, prisons, and
justice. Visualizing Abolition highlights the creative work underway by artists, activists, and
scholars to imagine alternatives to current injustices. Visualizing Abolition is organized by UCSC
Professor Gina Dent and Dr. Rachel Nelson, in partnership with Lauren Schell Dickens, SJMA
chief curator.

Image Credit: Portrait of Maria Gaspar, photo credit: Mark Poucher

Maria Gaspar is a Chicago-born interdisciplinary artist whose practice addresses issues of
spatial justice to amplify, mediate, or divert structures of power through individual and collective
gestures. Gaspar is the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowship for the Creative Arts, Latinx Artist
Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship, Frieze Impact Prize, Art Matters Award, Imagining
Justice Art Grant, Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Emerging
Artist Grant, and Creative Capital Award. Gaspar has exhibited at venues including MoMA PS1,
New York, NY; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; and the Abroms-Engle Institute
for the Visual Arts, Birmingham, AL. She is an associate professor at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago, holds an MFA in Studio Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a
BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

As the keystone public galleries at UC Santa Cruz, the Institute of the Arts and Sciences
presents a unique vision for the arts at the forefront of social transformation. Drawing on the
resources of a leading research university, the world-class exhibitions at the Institute engage the
most critical issues of our time, catalyzing meaningful encounters with the arts and ideas.
The Institute Galleries are located at 100 Panetta Avenue, on the westside of Santa Cruz and
are open Tuesday-Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Admission is free to the public. More information at

Visualizing Abolition is a public scholarship initiative at the Institute of the Arts and Sciences
featuring art exhibitions, public events, artist commissions, a music series, postdoctoral
fellowships, graduate student workshops, and curriculum development. These programs are
designed to foster creative research and to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and

Working across prison borders in all aspects of the initiative, and in collaboration with current
and formerly incarcerated people, as well as those without that lived experience, the
overarching goal is to change the narrative that links prisons to justice, contributing instead to
the unfolding collective story and alternative imagining underway to create a future free of

Visualizing Abolition is organized by Gina Dent and Rachel Nelson, with support from the Mellon
Foundation, and in collaboration with San José Museum of Art.

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