1. the quality of being composed of matter.
    “the exhibition explores the materiality of the body”
    • LAW
      the quality of being relevant or significant.
      “the applicant must establish materiality on the balance of probabilities”
    • a material quality or thing.
      plural noun: materialities
      “giving a materiality to space”


Via the Getty Research Institute; (c.2014)

The inquiry into an artwork’s materiality raises questions about procurement, trade, value, and manufacturing on the one hand, and, on the other, about the materiality of mechanically reproduced objects or of ephemeral, durational, and conceptual works. Finally, as artworks move between cultures, their materials—whether feathers, shells, marble, or oil paint—are given new meanings, thereby accumulating additional interpretive layers.




Warren Seelig: Materiality and Meaning

American Craft Council

Published on 13 Apr 2012

Artist and educator Warren Seelig gave a presentation on the meaning of materials in craft and art today. In the presentation, he discusses the work of a handful of contemporary artists who are using interesting materials to create spectacular work.

[Teacher ]  “Why do you study materiality?”
[Student ]  “…well, I just don’t want to stare at a computer all day”

… “students have turned into cultural anthropologists”



Case Studies:



Kristen Morgin

This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s June/July/August 2010 issue.


…Morgin’s ceramics career began, more or less, in 1995, when she arrived at New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, enrolled in the MFA program.

As Morgin soon discovered, Alfred can be a challenging place for experimentation. “If you weren’t going to fire and glaze, you really had to explain yourself,” she says, and she became quite good at explaining. “Within ceramics, there’s a fear that if you come in and start making work out of unfired clay you’re going to endanger the traditions.” Morgin respected tradition, especially the diligent attention ceramic artists pay to how things are made, but she wanted her work to have a non-traditional effect.


“I wanted my work to be dangerous,” she continues. While fired clay was dependable and archival, air-dried clay required constant maintenance. “Depending on how you cared for something, it could either break down or still exist.” The threat of extinction made the objects more alive.


Advisors warned Morgin that her unwieldy sculptures would be impossible to move and too precarious to sell. The latter didn’t bother her. She liked the idea of keeping what she made, building an ever-growing, museum-like repository.


In 2001, after she had moved to Southern California to teach but before her work began receiving national attention, Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo offered Morgin a solo show. This was a particularly dark period for Morgin, who had just experienced the death of a good friend, and the challenge of filling Cuesta’s space, a gaping 2000-square-foot gallery, allowed her to marry some of her melancholia with ambition. She invented a narrative: a composer, trapped in a labor camp, arranged a brilliant symphony. This symphony doubled as a theory that tied together everything in the world and someone managed to smuggle it out of the camp. It remained buried for years until Morgin’s show finally unleashed “the theory of everything” to the world.

Morgin built violins, deer, cars, dinnerware, trumpets, and nine cellos that maintained a quiet elegance despite the fact that each instrument looked slightly more battered than the last. She also included 150 collage pieces, and told the story of the smuggled symphony at the opening. Titled “The Ticking Elephant and Other Surviving Excerpts of the Hope Symphony,” the exhibition turned nostalgia on its head. It wasn’t about reveling in past brilliance; it was a survey of weathered objects bent on staying in the world.



Caroline Lathan-Stiefel

via her website

“Often my installation work has focused on rhizomatic structures. Previous room-sized pieces have been inspired by marine and plant biology, as well as architectural and urban models. While the forms that make up my work suggest systems or structures, they are also meant to somehow reflect time and my own hand in the work. ”






Nick Cave is an artist, educator and foremost a messenger, working between the visual and performing arts through a wide range of mediums including sculpture, installation, video, sound and performance. He says of himself “I have found my middle and now am working toward what I am leaving behind.” Cave is well known for his Soundsuits, sculptural forms based on the scale of his body. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment.








Jonathan Brilliant

“In addition to his work as visual artist, Jonathan Brilliant is a drummer. It’s a good fact to know about him upfront as the cadence and underlying pulse inherent to such percussive sensibilities impart an edge to his art that explains a lot about what’s happening. There are distinct tempos, repetitions and an underlying structure in his artwork. These Rhythmic qualities lend a certain presence and pattern to his installations where you can literally feel the vibe” -Dave Delcambre, October 2010 Artsee Magazine full text here


“In 2006 I began My “Goldsworthy of the coffee shop project” initially assuming the role of a British artist who gathers materials in his natural environment and uses them to execute a site-specific installation. In my version the natural environment was the coffee shop, and my materials were the to-go coffee cup and all it’s accoutrements. The resulting work was both ironic and labor intensive with a traditional craft based sensibility. In this ongoing series of work, I now continue to explore my sense that the coffee shop and related consumer environs are more organic and nurturing than the “real” natural environment. To date the project has been realized in several locations as site-responsive installations. Central to these works are my woven stir stick installations. The Woven stick installations are created entirely in situ using only tension and compression to create a sculptural environment. In 2009 this work was expanded into an itinerant artist project. Traveling to several locations in succession for the Have Sticks Will Travel World Tour,  I created multiple installations entirely in situ during the course of 8-10 day residencies at each location.

Central to all my work is an interest in patterning and mark-making fused with the use of pre- and post-consumer manufactured materials and the use of  rhythm and repetition to create installations, objects, and works on paper. Running through my work is a real enthusiasm for the inherent qualities of a material and the extent to which I can exploit it for making art. Rather than relying solely on intuitive approaches  I have a set of systems I apply to the materials at hand. These systems include, but are not limited to: weaving, welding, stacking, arranging, drumming, beating, rusting, drawing, photographing, looking at, and thinking about.” via his website





El Anatsui is an internationally acclaimed artist who transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. He uses resources typically discarded such as liquor bottle caps and cassava graters to create sculpture that defies categorization. His use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. His work can interrogate the history of colonialism and draw connections between consumption, waste, and the environment, but at the core is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice.

Anatsui is well-known for large scale sculpture composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take different forms every time they are installed. In the 2003 Fowler Museum catalogue accompanying his touring exhibition El Anatsui: Gawu he said “I don’t want to be a dictator. I want to be somebody who suggests things.”

In morphing to fit various installation spaces, Anatsui’s sculptures, which are often wall-based, challenge long-held views of sculpture as something rigid and insistent and open up his work to exist on its own terms. “I work more like a sculptor and a painter put together,” he said in an interview with Chika Okeke-Agulu that accompanied a solo exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in (2011). In a New York Times review of his (2010) solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, Roberta Smith wrote “…the works evoke lace but also chain mail; quilts but also animal hides; garments but also mosaic, not to mention the rich ceremonial cloths of numerous cultures. Their drapes and folds have a voluptuous sculptural presence, but also an undeniably glamorous bravado.”





Chiharu Shiota

Shiota’s oeuvre links various aspects of art performances and installation practices. Mostly renown for her vast, room-spanning webs of threads or hoses, she links abstract networks with concrete everyday objects such as keys, windows, dresses, shoes, boats and suitcases.[3] Besides installation works, she frequently collaborates with choreographers and composers such as Toshio HosokawaSasha Waltz[4] and Stefan Goldmann[5] for opera, concert and dance projects.


“The Key in the Hand”, 2015, The 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, Venice/Italy, photo by Sunhi Mang





 Maurizio Anzeri makes his portraits by sewing directly into found vintage photographs. His embroidered patterns garnish the figures like elaborate costumes, but also suggest a psychological aura, as if revealing the person’s thoughts or feelings. The antique appearance of the photographs is often at odds with the sharp lines and silky shimmer of the threads. The combined media gives the effect of a dimension where history and future converge. The image used in Round Midnight is an early 20th century ‘glamour shot’ that at the time would have been considered titillating for both the girl’s nudity and ethnicity. Anzeri’s delicately stitched veil recasts the figure with an uncomfortable modesty, overlaying a past generation’s cross-cultural anxieties with an allusion to our own.
Maurizio Anzeri
Round Midnight
Embroidery on print
62 x 45 cm
Maurizio Anzeri
Embroidery on photograph
23 x 16.5 cm
Maurizio Anzeri
Embroidery on photograph
23 x 17.8 cm

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