The History of Art... in Felt: Lucy Sparrow's Ambitious Takeover of M WOODS, Beijing
"You've got to be fucking kidding me?", which would be the first words out of your mouthif you had just walked into M WOODS for Lucy Sparrow's immersive, ambitious (even for an artist who makes 31,000 piece installations) Felt Art Imaginarium. Hours after a trans-Pacific flight, and I'm staring up at an actual scale size replica of Michelangelo's David, which at home in Florence, is incredibly larger than imagination. Now seeing it in felt, in China, it was clear Lucy had decided to shake up perceptions of art history and also reaffirm our beliefs that art history can be rewritten, even 500 years after their creation.
Spanning thousands of years of art, with over 70 works, all replicated to exact size, Lucy Sparrow's Felt Art Imaginarium is not just incredible due to the volume we have come to expect with her interactive installations, or that it is all made of felt. Even though these works look incredibly vivid with the new materials from which they are made, Sparrow has altered our belief in the past with felt as her medium. ( I did, indeed, love her anecdote while walking the show the morning after her opening, that she was drawn to the works that were soley felt and eschewed extra painted details.) What I found most interesting were my own personal feelings toward the most famous pieces of art in the world, because none of these works were deemed important or famous by anyone I've ever known. These works are famous because they are... famous? Through Chinese scrolls to Damien Hirst's shark, the funny wink-wink of the show, our visual culture and history, comprised of these paintings and artifacts, is constantly questioned as we are compelled to challenge how the West plays into this dominating visual identity.
In addition to visual culture, there are brilliant insights into the ways we consume culture. Felt is accessible, able to be mass-produced, and used. Applying the material to her more consumer-centric shows, Sparrow Mart most recently, was a more direct way of talking about the point. But with Felt Art Imaginarium, a different kind of indulgence is on display, the visual conquest of historical gains. That Sparrow loves painting and art history bestows the show with a cloak of honor and critique.
Through Terracotta warriors and ancient artifacts, to the van Gogh, Matisse, Nara and Haring works of the past few centuries, Sparrow runs a marathon of art history in this exhibition, which contains all the best parts of her practice: playful, serious, ambitious, immersive. And now with her signature gift shop-felt objects becoming their own fine art collectibles; witness the long lines in Beijing to get a felt banana, Sparrow is blazing her own path in a Kaws-ian way, where everything she touches has become an event and every single detail goes unnoticed. It's both intimate and grand. —Evan Pricco
Lucy Sparrow's Felt Art Imaginarium is on view at M WOODS in Beijing through October 7, 2019. The show will tour in China afterwards.
Read our cover story with Sparrow from Spring 2019 here.