I’ve always been interested in portraying some kind of fantasy, then showing that it’s completely constructed. There are always dark messages hidden behind beauty, and the act of sculpting is about listening to that inner voice that warns you about something lurking beneath the surface.
In richly detailed sculptures and multipart installations, Rachel Feinstein investigates and challenges the concept of luxury as expressed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, in the context of contemporary parallels. By synthesizing visual and societal opposites such as romance and pornography, elegance and kitsch, and the marvelous and the banal, she explores issues of taste and desire.
Born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and raised in Miami, Feinstein received a BA in 1993 from Columbia University, New York, where she studied religion, philosophy, and studio art. That same year she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. She found her passion for sculpture under the influence of mentors such as Kiki Smith, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Judy Pfaff. In 1994 Feinstein was included in several group shows in New York, including Let the Artist Live! at Exit Art, where she presented a large gingerbread house modeled after Sleeping Beauty’s castle in which she slept throughout the exhibition.
Feinstein’s work was included in the first iteration of MoMA PS1’s Greater New York in 2000. She had her first solo exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, the following year, showing large plaster and wood sculptures of lions, swans, angels, and waterfalls, and transforming one of the galleries into an all-white Rococo-style salon, inspired by imperial palaces in Munich and Vienna. The construction of fantastical, multidimensional environments is integral to Feinstein’s practice. Preferring to see her work in complex interiors, she often brings Baroque elements into exhibition spaces, complicating the relationship between sculpture and painting, positive and negative space. The sculptures, viewed from certain angles, flatten, while the walls seem to expand through Feinstein’s use of mirrors and wallpaper.
Seeing her ornate sculptures reflected in her paintings on mirror from the early 2000s, Feinstein began to explore spatial landscapes, notably those depicted in panoramas from the 1800s. Using found images, she created hybrid arcadian landscapes printed on mirrored wallpaper. The first of these wallpapers, Panorama of Rome (2012), was installed in the elliptical gallery at Gagosian in Rome, offering visitors an impressionistic view of the city around them. In 2010–11 Feinstein transformed the modernist interior of Lever House, New York, into a snowy wonderland, rife with stylized elements of Rococo and Gothic design. Interpreting Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen, she created a gilded carriage, groups of toy soldiers, arched alcoves containing characters from the story, and sublime architectural ruins painted onto floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Three years later her sculpture Folly (2014) was installed in New York’s Madison Square Park, marking Feinstein’s first public art exhibition in the US.
In 2018 Feinstein produced the Secrets series, comprising eight large-scale sculptures that reimagine the Victoria’s Secret “Angels,” as well as ceramic sculptures inspired by Franz Anton Bustelli’s Rococo commedia dell’arte figurines. As in much of her work, the theatrical and the intricate verge on the grotesque, becoming strangely erotic abstractions, and suggesting the body through its absence.
Feinstein’s first career survey, Maiden, Mother, Crone at the Jewish Museum, New York (2019–21), presented three decades of her sculptures, paintings, and videos and was accompanied by a major monograph. Titled after three consequential stages in a woman’s life, the exhibition traced her investigations of masculinity and femininity, balance and precariousness. First exhibited in 2022, the Mirror series comprises oil paintings on mirror supports that reference sixteenth-century sculptural altarpieces. Interpreting the altarpieces’ carved forms, Feinstein leaves her figures’ eyes unpainted, evoking in the viewer an uncanny sense of becoming one with each painting. In 2023, Feinstein’s exhibition Façade at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia, features her painted panoramas, large-scale sculptures, and wall reliefs in a multidimensional installation that shifts between reality and illusion.
Rachel Feinstein: Mirror
Join Rachel Feinstein in her New York studio as she addresses the genesis of her exhibition Mirror in London and the enduring power of religious iconography.
Jean Pigozzi: An interview with Rachel Feinstein
Famed photographer of the famous, Jean Pigozzi speaks with artist Rachel Feinstein about the publication of his new book, The 213 Most Important Men in My Life, and provides a sneak peek at what’s coming up next.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2021
The Summer 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Carrie Mae Weems’s The Louvre (2006) on its cover.
Artist to Artist: Rachel Feinstein and Ewa Juszkiewicz
On the occasion of Frieze New York 2021, the two artists discuss remixing conventions, the allure of Rococo, and the importance of research and history within their respective practices.
The artist discusses her life and work with Alan Yentob.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2019
The Winter 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a selection from Christopher Wool’s Westtexaspsychosculpture series on its cover.
Rachel Feinstein at Chatsworth
A new sculpture by Rachel Feinstein has been unveiled on the grounds of Chatsworth, the celebrated Derbyshire estate, where Feinstein recently spent time as Gucci’s inaugural artist in residence. Alice Godwin tells the story of how it came to be.
Rachel Feinstein: Frieze Sculpture
Rachel Feinstein speaks about her outdoor installation for Frieze Sculpture 2018—a set of four majolica sculptures, inspired by Franz Anton Bustelli’s Rococo commedia dell’arte figurines.
Rachel Feinstein Brings Rome to Paris
Rachel Feinstein speaks to Gagosian’s Angela Brown about “bringing Rome to Paris,” for her exhibition at Le Mur.
New Social Environment
Rachel Feinstein in Florence
Friday, September 8, 2023, 1pm edt
As part of the Brooklyn Rail’s online series New Social Environment, Rachel Feinstein joins the journal’s editor-at-large Andrew Woolbright for a conversation about the artist’s current exhibition, Rachel Feinstein in Florence, on view at the Museo Novecento and at three other museums in the city Museo Marino Marini, Museo Stefano Bardini, and Palazzo Medici Riccardi. In these daily lunchtime Zoom conversations, invited artists, writers, filmmakers, and poets discuss creative life in the context of our new social reality with Brooklyn Rail staff. The talk will conclude with a poetry reading by Rachel James.
Installation view, Rachel Feinstein in Florence, Museo Marino Marini, Florence, Italy, June 9–September 18, 2023. Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Ela Bialkowska
High Line Plinth
Rachel Feinstein has been invited to submit a proposal for the High Line Plinth in New York. The proposals are for the fifth and sixth Plinth commissions, which will be installed in 2026 and 2027. Feinstein was nominated by an international advisory committee of artists, curators, and arts professionals convened by High Line Art. In fall 2023, the committee will select a shortlist of artists who present maquettes of their proposals in a public exhibition in early 2024. The curatorial team will consider community feedback in their selection process so the public is encouraged to share comments on the High Line website by August 25, 2023.
Rendering of Rachel Feinstein’s 22-foot-tall cast aluminum sculpture Dorothy for the High Line Plinth. Artwork © Rachel Feinstein
Madison Avenue Spring Gallery Walk 2023
Saturday, May 20, 2023, 10am–6pm
Join Artnews and the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District on a springtime walk to visit over sixty galleries that line Madison Avenue from East 57th to East 86th Streets. The Gagosian Shop is featuring an installation dedicated to Jean Prouvé’s 1947 demountable wood chair CB 22, alongside Rachel Feinstein’s newly launched ring collection with Ippolita and the Jewish Museum, and the latest Gagosian publications, including Louise Bonnet: Recent Paintings. An exhibition by Donald Judd spanning the 980 and 976 Madison Avenue galleries is also on view.
Jean Prouvé’s 1947 demountable wood chair CB 22 in the Gagosian Shop, New York
Opening this Week
December 2, 2023–April 28, 2024
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia
Fairy Tales explores centuries of beloved folk stories through contemporary art, costumes, immersive installations, and cinema from visual storytellers around the world. The exhibition aims to untangle themes of bravery and justice, loyalty and humility, cunning and aspiration. Work by Rachel Feinstein, Urs Fischer, and Carsten Höller is included.
Rachel Feinstein, Mr. Time, 2015 © Rachel Feinstein
Rachel Feinstein in Florence
June 9–September 18, 2023
Various venues in Florence, Italy
Rachel Feinstein’s work is the subject of an exhibition project conceived and curated by Sergio Risaliti, director of the Museo Novecento, in collaboration with three other major museums in Florence: Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Museo Stefano Bardini, and Museo Marino Marini. The multipart exhibition places Feinstein’s sculpture and paintings, some shown in Italy for the first time, in dialogue with masterworks of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque period, demonstrating her ongoing fascination with the art of the past.
Installation view, Rachel Feinstein in Florence, Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence, Italy, June 9–September 18, 2023. Artwork © Rachel Feinstein. Photo: Ela Bialkowska
February 3–July 3, 2023
SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia
In Façade, painted panoramas, large-scale sculptures, and 40-foot-long wall reliefs from across Rachel Feinstein’s career come together to form a labyrinth that shifts between reality and illusion. Each work featured in this multidimensional installation is an amalgamation of aesthetic and conceptual references, ranging from fairy tales and religious stories to art historical eighteenth-century European craft and twentieth-century American kitsch.
Installation view, Rachel Feinstein: Façade, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia, February 3–July 3, 2023. Artwork © Rachel Feinstein
An Anthology of Fashion
May 7–September 5, 2022
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In America: An Anthology of Fashion is the second portion of a two-part exhibition exploring fashion in the United States. Men’s and women’s clothing dating from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century is featured in vignettes installed in select period rooms in the museum’s American Wing, surveying more than two centuries of American domestic life. The exhibition reflects these narratives through a series of three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames” produced in collaboration with notable American film directors, including Sofia Coppola, who enlisted Rachel Feinstein and John Currin to sculpt and paint the faces of her mannequins. These mise-en-scènes explore the role of dress in shaping American identity and address the complex and layered histories of the museum’s period rooms.
McKim, Mead & White Stair Hall staged by Sofia Coppola in collaboration with Rachel Feinstein and John Currin, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2022. Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York