New Museum Triennial: KAHLIL ROBERT IRVING

Photography Aubrey Mayer

What is your current state of mind? My current state of mind is overwhelmed. I am working on a few different renovation projects and my practice. My biggest goal right now is making it comfortable for an older relative to be able to live comfortably. So, I am holding a lot in the air right now and waiting to let them down easily and smooth.

What body of work would you like people to know more about? I would like people to know that I make in a few different media and that I am interested in a lot of things. I am really into learning.

What’s the last thing you binged? And how long did it take you? The last thing I binged was “The CHI.” It took me a few weeks to watch so I guess I did not really binge it. I thought it was an interesting television show. Easy in some parts and rich in others.

Describe your work for the show in 3 words: Slippery, heavy, memorial.

Do you think that earth is safe? I feel like we are all exposed to an inherited set of experiences in regards to the safety of the earth. So, it is quite intense for me to make that determination. I think that I am a part of a greater situation in motion and I am out of control and along for the ride. So, my opinion about safety is tough to determine or communicate.

What makes for a great group show? A great group exhibition is built around a point. It has breath or no breath if that is the point. I think there should be a variety of textures.

Studio necessity: A simple studio necessity for me is sparkling water. Also, a quiet fan that is out of the way. I am really uncomfortable when the air is still in a room. So, I try to keep things slightly moving when working. In terms of tools and materials, a few thousand pounds of clay would be great, and sharp knives.

What artist dead or alive would you like to share a two-person show with? Do Ho Suh.

What’s your best art joke? I do not have one. I do have a funny story about a guy asking me to use a lighter once out in front of Artist's Space in lower Manhattan.

Who or what as the last person or thing that made you cry? The last thing that made me cry was when a friend made a reference to her grandfather passing and I thought about my grandma and all these dreams I have been having lately.

What qualities make for a good art work? The qualities that make for a good artwork is a tough question because there are so many layers to this. I do not know if I can list and/or network this answer in this short interview.

What is your most treasured possession? My glasses and this pendent that I have with a photo with my mom and I as a baby.

Most disturbing thing someone has said about your work? I have not heard everything anyone has said—but at a fair once a woman dismissed my booth and said “Hmm, we do not need to stop here because this work is made all out of trash.”

The most flattering? The introduction Glenn Ligon presented for a talk that he invited me to was a great set of thoughts around my work.

Do you like gossiping and if so, about what? I like to gossip about my neighborhood and family drama, but there really is not much to gossip about lately.

Do you ever see parts of your childhood in your work? I do see parts of my childhood in my work. I loved Legos and television growing up, and so using image transfers is a technique that I can build with and include specific references into any object I am working on. As my installations and sculptures become more and more architectural, the Lego reference is exposed.

Are there topics that should be untouched by art? Hmmm, are there any topics that should not be addressed in art? I think that there are ways to use and engage different and intense information but it’s the construct of how it is used that delineates how and when or if it works.

Do artists have responsibilities? I think artists have the responsibilities they would like to use, take on and/or address. The inherited visible, and invisible layers of what we see and cannot see are a part of a life of learning… and I do what I can, and try where I can and I feel bad when I cannot, but I work to make a difference in some capacity.

In your mind, what is the state of art criticism? Art criticism has an intense state similar to the news. Headlines and tabloids rule, and honesty and legibility are not always what is publicly shared or seen. I think it is hit and miss. There is great writing coming out of the Midwest. Jessica Baran is a thoughtful writer that has been covering quite a bit of territory and catching some great thoughts from Chicago, St. Louis, Bentonville, and other places.

What show do you wish people talked more about this year? The Emma Amos survey at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I would want to come back as the wind—I would be able to travel around the world and would be able to see everything that I missed when I was alive.

If you could live with one work of art, what would that be? A sandbox sculpture by Lee Bontecou from 2005–2011.

What’s your biggest fear? My biggest fear is to not be able to see and keep making my work. But I would learn to keep working and doing something. I also have a fear of not being able to have a family of my own.

What is one thing you do when no one else is around? I walk around my studio with the lights off. I listen to music on repeat. I also take breaks and eat ice cream alone.

How would you like to die? I would like to die in my sleep after being able to spend a good amount of time with my family and having seen a lot more of the world.

Published: November 12, 2021


The fifth New Museum Triennial, “Soft Water Hard Stone,” is on view at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, through January 23, 2022.