Arts & Culture, Went There

WENT THERE: Kathleen Ryan, Cultivator at the MIT List


Kathleen Ryan: Cultivator

February 8, 2019 – April 21, 2019

MIT List Visual Arts Center

Large-scale sculptures by Kathleen Ryan stand, hang, and lay across the Reference Gallery of the List Visual Arts Center at MIT, bringing a renewed fascination with the formal aspects of sculpture. Walking into the space, the first thing I noticed was the small number of pieces presented. It is refreshing to focus on these three sculptures which have clear physical and emotional relationships. I was able to walk around freely, not worried about bumping into anything, and spend quality time observing everything at once.

Ryan, who lives and works in New York, titled the show Cultivator because “it evokes something biological and cultural, but also mechanical.” The term itself has a variety of meanings, including the literal- to break up the soil in preparation for crops or gardens, which is what the artist might feel as she collects objects prior to constructing these sculptures. A cultivator is also something that develops or grows, a quality which plants and people share.

Kathleen Ryan, Mother of Pearl, 2019

Mother of Pearl (shown above) stands over seven and a half feet tall, protectively observing or looming from across the room. The iron structure, believed to be part of a furnace, is figurative and infinite in shape. Its rusty, lackluster exterior is contrasted by a shiny and smooth abalone shell interior.

Kathleen Ryan, Galaxie 300, 2019

Detail of Galaxie 300

This exhibition rewards visitors who are patient and look closely. Although these pieces are large and direct, every detail is purposeful, drawing on our fascination and humor. Galaxie 300 (shown below) is playful in material and size. Its construction immediately evokes the form of a pearl necklace. Looking closer, we can distinguish that the “beads” are bowling balls, adorned with exciting messages, like “Tonight We Bowl” and personalized be Norm or Susan who loved the game. As I look over this piece, I am unexpectedly wondering about the lives of the people inscribed. Are they still alive? Do they still bowl? What was their best score? Did they bowl with friends? Along with material questions: what are bowling balls made of? How much they cost and how much more to get my name on it? Is the cost by letter? How do you drill into a bowling ball?

These unimaginably heavy sculptures combine found and forged elements, expressing the organic and mechanic, not learning one way or the other, but balancing the importance of both. The monotone color scheme of industrial hardware allows small details of gems and shells to shimmer with hope. Overall, these obscured materials bring complexity to our understanding of object histories that are intertwined with nature.


Kathleen Ryan: Cultivator will be on view at the MIT List through April 21st. More information on the exhibition can be found here.

Images used in this article are credited to the Peter Harris Studio.

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