In addition to making paintings, drawings, and collages characterized by infectious exuberance and raw materiality, Spencer Sweeney produces immersive multimedia environments that transform gallery spaces into open workshops and performance stages, exposing the traditionally private realm of the artist’s studio to public scrutiny.
Born in Philadelphia, Sweeney graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1997. He then moved to New York, where, in concert with his visual practice, he helped establish the nightclub Santos Party House and worked as a DJ. He also cofounded the seminal noise-art group Actress (1997–2001) with Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance, performing as its drummer at gallery and museum events including Criss Cross: Some Young New Yorkers III at MoMA PS1 in 1999. Sweeney cites jazz as having influenced his reliance on improvisation, and alongside frequent references to popular culture in his work, he alludes to the history of art. His reclining nudes, portraits, and self-portraits, for example, reverberate with the amplified and distorted voices of Pablo Picasso, Édouard Manet, and Henri Matisse, while also combining the extemporaneous vigor of Neo-Expressionism with the knowing repetition of signature motifs.
In 2015 Spencer Sweeney, a 500-page book of conversations between the artist and some of his myriad inspirations from the worlds of cinema, literature, music, New York nightlife, and contemporary art, was published, testifying to his fundamental investment in context and open exchange. Sweeney’s painting and drawing salon Headz (2017–)—a collaboration with Urs Fischer—hosts performances by experimental jazz musicians such as Pete Drungle, Craig Harris, and Jay Rodriguez, and has received international stagings in Berlin, Mexico City, and Paris. In his current work, Sweeney continues to invoke the spirit of “availablism” (a term coined by performance artist Kembra Pfahler to describe making art with materials to hand), interweaving images of disarming psychological directness with a fluid and multilayered examination of the creative process itself.
Spencer Sweeney and Edek Bartz
Curator and concert promoter Edek Bartz speaks with the artist about portraiture, album covers, and subverting expectations.
Spencer Sweeney and Kembra Pfahler
Kembra Pfahler speaks with Sweeney about his work, staying inspired, and the relationship between self-portraiture and performance.
September 24–30, 2020
Sometimes you find a convergent expression of joy and pain, almost in the same breath. This is what interests me.
Gagosian is pleased to present paintings and works on paper by Spencer Sweeney online for galleryplatform.la. Curated from several existing bodies of work, the selection centers on the human face as a bearer of expression and a site for visual experimentation.
Sweeney’s paintings, drawings, and collages are alive with the same infectious energy as his multimedia environments, musical performances, and collaborative experiments. In the eight works on view, which were made between 2011 and 2020, the New York–based artist presents a vital and accessible take on the elemental formats of portrait and figure study, viewing them afresh through the mercurial lenses of popular culture and subjective experience. Inspired by the improvisational spirit of jazz, he produces intensely colored, boldly gestural images that reverberate with the amplified and distorted voices of art historical exemplars.
Spencer Sweeney in his studio, New York, 2020. Artwork © Spencer Sweeney. Photo: Pete Sieper
January 30–February 2, 2020, booth B25
Gagosian is pleased to participate in artgenève 2020, with modern and contemporary works by Davide Balula, Georg Baselitz, Helen Frankenthaler, Simon Hantaï, Damien Hirst, Grant Levy-Lucero, Henri Matisse, Olivier Mosset, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, David Reed, Sterling Ruby, Spencer Sweeney, and Tom Wesselmann, among others.
Helen Frankenthaler, Omen, 1980 © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Taipei Dangdai 2020
January 17–19, 2020, booth E20
Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Taipei Dangdai 2020, presenting works by Georg Baselitz, John Currin, Edmund de Waal, Urs Fischer, Katharina Grosse, Damien Hirst, Robert Indiana, John Mason, Takashi Murakami, Takashi Murakami & Virgil Abloh, Albert Oehlen, Nam June Paik, Steven Parrino, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Spencer Sweeney, Tom Wesselmann, and Jonas Wood, among others.
John Currin, Young Woman on a Lounger, 2014 © John Currin