Spotlight: Artist Chakaia Booker’s Rubber Tire Sculptures Sit at the Intersection of Culture, Economics, and Transportation

The artist's inaugural show with David Nolan Gallery is on view through June 23, 2023.

Chakaia Booker, Minimum Wage (2022). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

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What You Need to Know: American artist Chakaia Booker—widely recognized for her extensive use of recycled rubber tires in her work—is currently the subject of a solo show with David Nolan Gallery in New York, “Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion.” On view through June 23, 2023, it is the artist’s inaugural show with the gallery and features a broad array of Booker’s signature sculptures completed in rubber tire—from room-spanning pieces to pedestal-size and wall-mounted works. Originally hailing from New Jersey, Booker initially studied sociology at Rutgers University for her B.A. in 1976, before receiving her M.F.A. in 1993 from the City College of New York. She has been an essential facet of the New York City art scene since the early 1980s, where she is still currently based while maintaining a studio in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Over the course of her more than four-decade career, the artist has been the recipient of numerous major public commissions—including Shaved Portions, commissioned by the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center and currently on view at the Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis—as well as grants and awards, such as from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Why We Like It: By selecting recycled rubber tires as a medium of choice in her sculptural pieces, Booker’s work takes on an inherent degree of tactility and immediacy—wherein the viewer’s proximity to the work evokes the sensorial feel of the material. The rubber tires, however, are far from being a choice of just materiality or convenience but are instead a medium steeped in conceptual and historical meaning; harking back to Modernist theories of medium specificity, the material in itself is a means for Booker to communicate and comment on ideas and viewpoints centered around society, culture, history, and the human condition. The present exhibition highlights the artist’s unique skill and technique in manipulating and compositionally crafting the rubber tires into myriad forms—from the mammoth and intricately detailed Manipulating Fractions (2004) to the wall-affixed, ribbony Self Absorbed (2023). The elements of the tires, specifically their varied tread and the ways different treads are juxtaposed recall the patterns found in traditional body scarification or the designs of African textiles. Presented alongside works from Booker’s explorations into other media—she has maintained a practice of printmaking, specifically chine collé, for over a decade—“Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion” offers both followers and those new to her work the opportunity to explore the breadth and scope of this singular artist’s oeuvre.

According to the Gallery: “As an abstractionist, the essential elements of materiality, modularity, and movement are the key building blocks for all of Booker’s works regardless of media. The pieces assembled for ‘Public Opinion’ include bronzes, ceramic constructions, paintings, prints, as well as sculptures composed of Booker’s now iconic rubber tires. Booker’s work is often site-specific and site responsive. Manipulating Fractions, last exhibited in Booker’s solo survey, ‘The Observance,’ at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, in 2021, has been reassembled and reinterpreted in response to the gallery’s architecture and volume. The long-running themes or meditations on human desire, struggle, perseverance, hope held back, and hope realized present in Booker’s earlier works made of rubber and steel, such as Raw Attraction (in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), are continued with new works, Conflicting Issues, and Minimum Wage.

Booker’s primary material, rubber tires, is conceptually loaded, speaking to issues of environmental destruction, socioeconomic disparity, and access to technology as it relates to modes of transportation. Curators and critics have often linked the material to the artist’s African American heritage, which Booker acknowledges, adding that the material also speaks to the resilience required for survival for Africans in the diaspora, citing the difficulty in getting traction to move forward and upward versus spinning in circles.”—Phil Sanders

See works from the exhibition below.

Chakaia Booker, Conflicting Issues (2023). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

Chakaia Booker, Self Absorbed (2023). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

Installation view of “Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion” (2023). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

Installation view of “Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion” (2023). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

Installation view of “Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion” (2023). Courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

Chakaia Booker: Public Opinion” is on view at David Nolan Gallery, New York, through June 23, 2023.

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