Tony Oursler (b. 1957, New York, NY; lives and works in New York, NY) is known for his innovative integration of video, sculpture, painting, drawing, and performance. A pioneering figure in new media since the 1970s, Oursler has developed unique methods of incorporating video elements into paintings, drawings, sculpture, and installations. At the center of Oursler’s highly research-based practice is his interest in the lasting effect technology has on humanity and an exploration of the boundaries between technology, nature, and culture. Inspired by pop culture and its references to urban legends, fables, modern folk tales, science fiction, the occult, and spirituality, he creates sophisticated narratives that ask us to question the veracity of information we have long taken at face value. Oursler combines these and countless other references to obscure histories in order to inspect how we learn and explore, and asks us to question the truths that shape our world.
Much of Oursler’s work attempts to understand the human experience through psychology and the corporeal mechanisms that the body uses both to express identity and communicate complex thoughts and emotions. As the primary vehicle for social communication, Oursler’s videos often focus on the face, fragmenting and distorting its physiognomy (and thus the legibility of expression) by projecting disembodied eyes or mouths onto inanimate objects, or embedding videos of distorted faces and bodies into sculpture. In his aluminum Facial Panel series, Oursler etches facial recognition patterns into two-dimensional panels roughly shaped like a human head. Embedded within the panels are video screens featuring close shots of a blinking eye or a mouth repeating poetic interpretations written by the artist. His curiosity about how much information is needed from human expression before non-verbal communication is achieved is a common theme throughout his oeuvre.
Oursler is also interested in how the mind locates the body in space, and often creates dissonance between moving image, object, and sound to make viewers acutely aware of their own physicality and surroundings. In his recent Bots series Oursler creates stick figures comprised of miniature flat screens, exposed computer circuitry, and blown glass. Though somewhat resembling the human form, with torsos, eyes, and mouths that call out and even seem to emote, the Bots are immobile, small in stature, and formally simplistic. They proclaim short poetic and provocative statements, scripted by Ourlser himself, that often startle the viewer who expects these sculptures to remain inert. Throughout his decades-long practice Oursler has consistently referenced advances in artificial intelligence, and his work poses numerous questions regarding our co-evolution with this technology. The artist sees technology as a reflection of our own ontologies, belief systems, and desires, and he asks us to question how we will continue to co-exist with our own scientific advances.
Oursler received a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1979. While studying at the California Institute of Arts, Oursler was influenced by John Baldessari, who taught him, Mike Kelly, John Miller, and Jim Shaw the importance of the narrative potential of images and the associative power of language. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at CaixaForum Madrid, Spain (2017); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2016); LUMA Foundation, Arles, France (2015); the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2014); Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (2013); Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo, Brazil (2013); PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine (2013); Art Sonje Center, Seoul, Korea (2012); ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark (2012); and Jeu de Paume, Paris, France traveling to the DA2 Domus Artium, Salamanca, Spain, and the Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen, Denmark (2005). Select group exhibitions featuring his work include Before Projection: Video Sculpture 1974-1995, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2018), Creature, The Broad, Los Angeles, CA (2016); America Is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2015); Disembodied, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (2013); Mike Kelley, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France (2013); The Royal Family, Hayward Gallery Project Space, London, United Kingdom (2012); Off the Wall: Part 1—Thirty Performative Actions, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2010); Spazio: The Scene and the Imaginary, Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI Secolo, Rome, Italy (2010); Looking at Music, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2008); and California Video, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2008). Oursler’s work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France; Eli Broad Family Foundation, Los Angeles, CA; Goetz Collection, Munich, Germany; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Milwaukee Art Museum, WI; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Saatchi Collection, London, United Kingdom; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
In 2000, Oursler was awarded the U.S. Art Critics Association ICA New Media Award.