Rick Lowe’s extensive body of work in painting, drawing, and installation is paired with numerous collaborative projects, undertaken in the spirit and tradition of “social sculpture.” Working closely with individuals and communities, Lowe has identified myriad ways to exercise creativity in the context of everyday activities, harnessing it to explore concerns around equity and justice. Through such undertakings as Black Wall Street Journey (2018–), a multifaceted citywide project for which he installed an information ticker in a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and Greenwood Art Project (2018–21), where he worked with local artists and others in Alabama to raise awareness of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Lowe has developed a highly flexible practice centered on nurturing relationships and catalyzing change.
Now based in Houston, Lowe was born in Russell County in rural Alabama. Among his earliest works are figurative “anti-paintings” derived from the aesthetics and functionality of protest signage. Engaging with issues such as police brutality, homelessness, poverty, and war, among others, these works were produced in collaboration with social justice groups and gatherings including community centers, protest rallies, and conferences.
This work led Lowe to explore further the constructs that underlie political and social systems. Influenced by Joseph Beuys’s concept of social sculpture, he became interested in developing projects aimed at the transformation of civic structures and sites. To this end, in 1993 he cofounded Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward, a historically significant and culturally charged African American neighborhood. Conceived in collaboration with artists James Bettison (1958–1997), Bert Long, Jr. (1940–2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith—as well as with neighbors and other creative thinkers, Project Row Houses transformed a small area of derelict shotgun houses into a vibrant cultural district. To this day, the project continues to unite groups and pool resources, manifesting sustainable opportunities for artists, young mothers, small businesses, and local residents.
Lowe’s work in Houston inspired him to initiate and participate in other community enterprises throughout the United States and abroad, including the artist-driven redevelopment organization Watts House Project in Los Angeles (1996–2012); a collaboration with British architect David Adjaye on a project for the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park (2005); and the production of Trans.lation: Vickery Meadow, a group of six pop-up community markets, for the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (2013). Among his ongoing initiatives are the Victoria Square Project (2016–), in the Victoria Square neighborhood of Athens, produced in collaboration with Maria Papadimitriou in the context of Documenta 14. By establishing spaces of cross-cultural dialogue, Lowe and Papadimitriou have helped make connections between immigrants, refugees, and locals possible in a community marked by xenophobic tensions following the onset of the refugee crisis in Greece.
Having used dominoes to engage directly and playfully with residents of the Third Ward during the development of Project Row Houses, Lowe developed a visual language based on aerial photographs of the game that reveal its resemblance to maps of urban districts. By tracing and layering the patterns he discovers, he continues to produce paintings and drawings that, while visually abstract, represent the reconfiguration and movement of communities over time. These works offer, in Lowe’s words, “an opportunity to think about the issues of equity and urban planning in a more conceptual way.”
In addition to his work in public and community spaces, Lowe has exhibited in institutions worldwide including the Phoenix Art Museum; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Arts, and in 2014 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. Lowe has served as a Distinguished Visitor at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University, California; Mel King Community Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Community Innovators Lab (MIT CoLab), Cambridge; and Loeb Fellow at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He joined the University of Houston as a tenured professor of interdisciplinary practice in 2016.
Behind the Art
Rick Lowe: In the Studio
Join Rick Lowe in his Houston studio as he speaks about his recent paintings, describing their connections to his long engagement with the activity of dominoes and to his community-based projects created in the tradition of social sculpture.
David Adjaye, Rick Lowe, and Thelma Golden
Rick Lowe and Sir David Adjaye join Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, for a conversation on the occasion of the exhibition Social Works at Gagosian, New York. The trio explore Adjaye and Lowe’s shared interests in architecture, community building, and the relationship between space and the Black body.
Social Works: Rick Lowe and Walter Hood
Rick Lowe and Walter Hood speak about Black space, the built environment, and history as a footing for moving forward as part of “Social Works,” a supplement guest edited by Antwaun Sargent for the Summer 2021 issue of the Quarterly.
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.
September 29–October 5, 2021
Rick Lowe’s extensive body of work in painting, drawing, and installation is paired with numerous collaborative projects, undertaken in the spirit and tradition of “social sculpture.” Working closely with individuals and communities, Lowe has identified myriad ways to exercise creativity in the context of everyday activities, harnessing it to explore concerns around equity and justice. In his paintings and drawings, he has developed a visual language based on aerial photographs of dominoes games that reveal their resemblance to maps of urban districts. By tracing and layering the patterns he discovers, he produces works that, while visually abstract, represent the reconfiguration and movement of communities over time.
Photo: Brent Reaney
Gagosian is pleased to announce the representation of Rick Lowe. Lowe’s numerous collaborative projects, undertaken in the spirit and tradition of “social sculpture,” are paired with an extensive body of work in painting, drawing, and installation. Working closely with individuals and communities, he has identified myriad ways to exercise creativity in the context of everyday activities, harnessing it to explore concerns around equity and justice. Influenced by Joseph Beuys’s formulation of “social sculpture,” he has moved from figurative “anti-painting” to the making and maintenance of projects aimed at the transformation of social structures and sites, and to symbolic abstract painting.
Lowe will inaugurate the third season of Gagosian’s Artist Spotlight series on September 29. His first solo exhibition at the gallery is scheduled for fall 2022 at Gagosian New York.
Rick Lowe. Photo: Brent Reaney
Prosperity and Innovation with Walter Hood, Rick Lowe, and Amanda Williams
In this video, artists Walter Hood, Rick Lowe, and Amanda Williams discuss how histories of Black invention and affluence can inspire new conditions for the present and future. The conversation is moderated by Tracie Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, and was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2021.
Still from “Black Reconstructions: Prosperity and Innovation”
Rick Lowe in
Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40
Through December 19, 2021
Various locations in Chicago
Organized by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago in collaboration with more than two dozen partner organizations across the city, Toward Common Cause is a multi-venue exhibition exploring the extent to which certain resources—air, land, water, and even culture—can be held in common. Raising questions about inclusion, exclusion, ownership, and rights of access, the exhibition considers art’s vital role in society as a call to vigilance, a way to bear witness, and a potential act of resistance. Presented on the fortieth anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows Program, Toward Common Cause employs the Fellows Program as an “intellectual commons” and features work by twenty-nine artists who have been named Fellows since the program’s founding in 1981, including Rick Lowe. For the exhibition, Lowe has created his first Chicago-based social sculpture, Black Wall Street Journey, a three-part citywide project that pays tribute to the building of Black wealth, using public art to tell stories from the journeys of Black communities in Chicago and beyond.
Rick Lowe, Black Wall Street Journey, 2018–, installation view, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 2021 © Rick Lowe Studio. Photo: Michael Tropea
New Paintings & Drawings
September 26, 2020–April 24, 2021
Art League Houston
New Paintings & Drawings is an exhibition of recent work by Rick Lowe, the Art League Houston 2020 Texas Artist of the Year. Created between 2017 and 2020, the works on view feature Lowe’s signature vivid explorations of color and complex visualizations of compositional space, and include his multilayered abstract paintings often depicting aerial views of domino games.
Installation view, Rick Lowe: New Paintings & Drawings, Art League Houston, September 26, 2020–April 24, 2021. Artwork © Rick Lowe Studio. Photo: Alex Barber
Rick Lowe in
April 8–September 17, 2017
Victoria Square, Athens
As part of Documenta 14, Rick Lowe collaborated with Maria Papadimitriou on Victoria Square Project (2016–), a social sculpture that strives to empower the local community through creative experiences. By building artistic spaces of belonging and refuge for locals and immigrants alike, this ongoing project gives new life and a sense of familial space to a somewhat polarized and forgotten community, stricken by grief and displacement during the recent refugee crisis in Greece.
Rick Lowe (in collaboration with Maria Papadimitriou), Victoria Square Project, 2016– © Rick Lowe Studio. Photo: Freddie Faulkenberry
October 19, 2013–February 16, 2014
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
Rick Lowe’s community art project Trans.lation takes place in Vickery Meadow, a three-square-mile area that makes up one of the most culturally diverse sections of Dallas and is home to thirty thousand residents speaking as many as twenty-seven languages. The project helps facilitate a new vision of what public space and interaction can look like in the neighborhood, identifying residents’ creative strengths and connecting them with local artists for collaboration and mentorship to ultimately engender opportunity and entrepreneurship. Trans.lation culminates in a series of pop-up markets that enable the Vickery Meadow community to share their artistic talents and cultural traditions with one another and the greater Dallas community.
Rick Lowe, Trans.lation: Vickery Meadow, 2013 © Rick Lowe Studio. Photo: Rick Lowe