The first New York institutional solo exhibition of visionary artist Pippa Garner (American, b. 1942) comes to Art Omi this summer. On view from June 24 to October 28, 2023, Pippa Garner: $ELL YOUR $ELF will feature over a hundred works, including sculptures, drawings, video, installations, and garments. Presented during the fiftieth anniversary of Garner’s Backwards Car (1973-1974), the exhibition will premiere a new custom car commissioned by Art Omi, a pickup truck with its exterior flipped 180 degrees, replete with truck nuts. Fully functional, the truck will be activated in performances in both Ghent and Manhattan throughout the run of the exhibition.
For more than five decades, Garner has produced work across sculpture, video, drawing, photography, and performance that playfully lampoon consumerism in post-Fordist America. Originally trained as a car designer, Garner was kicked out of the ArtCenter College of Design’s transportation design program in 1969 for submitting a car morphing into a human body. Garner conceived of her first major car, Backwards Car, a 1959 Chevy with its top rotated 180 degrees so it would appear to be facing the wrong way as it drove, which she rode across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and highways in California.
The exhibition underscores Garner’s interest in how self is commodified and instrumentalized in today’s world. Proposing surrogate forms and supports for the body, Garner’s designs deflect and subvert the terms of visibility, productivity, and respectability through satirical devices and garments that highlight the absurdism of contemporary conditions. Garner embraces pleasure, humor, and the perversion of mass-produced products as temporary means of relief from these pressures, as well as tools for imagining the world otherwise.
Garner emerged among a generation of artists in 1970s Los Angeles studying cultural desires embedded in advertising and mass media. Her work expands narratives of West Coast conceptualism in the 1970s and 1980s associated with her friends and collaborators from this period, including artists Ed Ruscha, Chris Burden, and Ant Farm’s Chip Lord. Like Burden, who inserted performances on public access television as advertisements, Garner found ways to infiltrate mass media, appearing in character as a guest on talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, and Monster Garage.
In the early 80s, Garner began gender-hacking with hormones—a process that she considers a conceptual artwork—marking an extension of her practice from twenty years of altering cars, garments, and consumer products to using her own body as raw material. From the 80s to the present, Garner has produced t-shirt designs that upend icons and hackneyed phrases, reworking them in unexpected ways that thumb her nose at assimilationist narratives and center erotics and desire.
Garner published three mail order catalogs in the 1980s that explore notions of selfhood and design, Better Living Catalog (1982), Utopia…or Bust! (1984), and Garner’s Gizmos and Gadgets (1987) in which she proposed a number of invented forms, including a suit with a crop top blazer or high heels with roller skates. Considered outlandish at the time, these looks have recently appeared in the lines of major fashion houses.
Pippa Garner: $ELL YOUR $ELF is curated by Sara O’Keeffe, Senior Curator, with Guy Weltchek, Curatorial Assistant.
Pippa Garner studied transportation design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles. Garner has shown at ICA LA (1980), MOCA LA (1985), and performed at Whitney Museum of American Art with Chip Lord (1980). She appeared in character as a guest on talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the Merv Griffin Show, and Monster Garage. Recently, Garner has had solo exhibitions at JOAN (2021), Kunstverein München (2022), Kunsthalle Zürich (2023), Frac Lorraine (2023), and Art Omi (2023). Garner lives and works in Long Beach, California.
Art Omi’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. Additional program support is provided by the Ruth Foundation for the Arts.