Ken Tisa:

Objects/Time/Offerings


February 26 – April 30, 2017

Gordon Robichaux is pleased to present its first exhibition, Ken Tisa: Objects/Time/Offerings. This immersive, site-specific installation by artist Ken Tisa comprises objects and ephemera from Tisa’s extensive collections, combined and layered with the paintings and drawings these items have inspired over the past three decades. The project is a new iteration of Tisa’s ongoing engagement with his collections and past installations: in his loft in SoHo, where he’s lived since the ’70s; in his apartments in Miami Beach and Aix-en-Provence, France; and at MoMA PS1, with the 1977 Hotel Firbank Archive exhibition and series of performances.


Ken Tisa: Objects/Time/Offerings presents shelves dense with puppets from the Czech Republic, Thailand, and Java; African devotional objects; French porcelain; plastic toys; Noh masks. Inside a translucent box lies a rich trove of associations: a pre-Columbian object, an Indonesian bone cylinder for a betel nut container, a Roman oil lamp, a Mayan frog whistle, a stone face, two seedpods, and a sterling-silver sewing instrument—all juxtaposed to create infinite worlds, temporalities, and stories.


Positioned next to walls laden with paintings, drawings, photographs, and ephemera, these objects are reincarnated and set into motion in an entirely new configuration. Layers of conversation, meaning, and memory are communicated through the combination and arrangement of disparate objects from Tisa’s collection and the paintings they inspired: a series of daily works from the late ’80s and early ’90s, when he lost many friends as well his lover to AIDS.


Tisa’s predilection for visual intensity and material density (historical, temporal, and cultural) can be traced back to childhood excursions to the flea market with his uncle Abe who was “crazy, certifiable, and an obsessive collector of everything, like me.” For Tisa, the collecting “gene” or gesture—this felt and activated sense of the power and pleasure of objects—is the method and the manifesto that underlie his work. (“I like stuff. I’ve always liked stuff. My paintings are filled with stuff.”)


His focus is nonhierarchical and his approach that of a nonexpert (his collections include a wide range of varied material: found objects, pre-Columbian art, dime-store finds, devotionals, toy toilets). The foundation of his work is a mode of being, a mind-altered state, a theory of time, a communion with history, a conjuring of other worlds, and a pathway to new ideas. Though heavily inspired by other cultures, especially the art of the African diaspora, Tisa consciously eschews appropriation or the mere reproduction of another culture. The power of his work lies in his ability to re-create his own narrative by summoning ideas from other cultures, tying his history to other histories. In Tisa’s words, “When you combine the past with your own point of view and interpretation, you can create something that’s never been seen before.”

—Svetlana Kitto

During the course of the exhibition, Gordon Robichaux will host a reading that expands on Tisa’s previous collaborations with other performers—Ethyl Eichelberger, Max Blagg, Kenward Elmslie—within the context of his installations. In conjunction with the exhibition, Pre-Echo Press will publish the book Ken Tisa: Objects/Time/Offerings. The exhibition is presented in cooperation with Kate Werble Gallery, New York.

Ken Tisa (born in 1945 in Philadelphia) received his BFA from Pratt Institute and his MFA from the Yale School of Art and Architecture. Tisa has held solo exhibitions at Kate Werble Gallery, New York (2013); Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (2006); Centre d’Art et de Culture, Aix-en-Provence, France (2004); Stellweg-Seguy Gallery, New York (1988); Alexander Wood Gallery, New York (1986); and Fischbach Gallery, New York (1972). His work has been exhibited at venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma; MoMA PS1, New York; Artists Space,New York; and Art in General, New York. He currently lives and works in New York City and is a professor in the painting department at Maryland Institute College of Art.