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This spring, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present “Tony Lewis: Anthology 2014–2016,” an installation of original collage-poems by the Chicago-based artist, on view March 6–May 28. Comprising 34 black-and-white collages, each constructing a new narrative using material sourced from Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, “Anthology 2014–2016” marks the artist’s first showing in Washington, D.C., and the first time the series will be exhibited in its entirety.
Lewis has quickly established himself in the contemporary art world by forming a distinct visual vocabulary that integrates poetry and text with the properties of abstraction. He primarily creates monochromatic drawings that pull from various visual and linguistic sources, ranging from the personal to the political. Separating, rearranging and erasing text, he shifts the way people read to open up new and unexpected meanings.
“We are very pleased to present the first solo exhibition of Lewis’ work on the East Coast,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “While visually minimal, these collages address complex themes surrounding the structure of language and storytelling, as well as intellectual property and an artist’s ability to convey meaning.”
To create the body of work on view at the Hirshhorn, Lewis deconstructed Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, reordered them and ultimately shaped them into poems through a process of erasing, editing and rearranging dialogue. Each poem is assembled as a collage of individual drawings that explores the collaborative nature of creativity and authorship, leaving the meaning open to a range of interpretations.
According to Lewis, “This is the clearest form of writing I’ve done to date, transferring authorship from Bill Waterston’s dialogue to a distinct writing process. Calvin and Hobbes was a literary and artistic savior growing up in the ’90s. By physically destroying it, appropriating it, editing it and rebuilding its narrative, I find new language and ideas that culminate with an intimate collection of poems.”
Staged in a gallery within the expansive exhibition “What Absence Is Made Of,” the series offers a focused look at a singular effort that led Lewis to create meaning from erasure, condensing hundreds of drawings created over four years into the final 34 works.
“Lewis is part of an exciting generation of artists who continue to put pressure on the remaining categorical divisions in art, eroding away at them and, in this case, arriving at an expansive realization that one can write through drawing,” said exhibition curator Betsy Johnson. “This interrogation of the mechanisms of writing is especially crucial at this moment when the power of language, especially language delivered in small doses, is often read as monolithic. Against this backdrop, Lewis’ attention to deconstructing authorship and meaning helps revive a critical understanding of the power dynamics that operate through and around text.”
About the Artist
Lewis (b. 1986, Los Angeles), currently lives and works in Chicago. Solo exhibitions of his work have been recently held at Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Massimo de Carlo, London; Blum and Poe, Los Angeles; Museo Marino Marini, Florence; and Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. He has participated in recent group exhibitions at Boston University Art Galleries; Aspen Art Museum; HOME Manchester, UK; LAXART, Los Angeles; Studio Museum Harlem, New York; and Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Maine. He is the recipient of the 2017–2018 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, where his work is on view in a site-specific project through June 2018.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu.
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