‘I Hope I Learn Something New’: Alex Da Corte on How He Found His Own Artistic Voice By Inhabiting Pop Culture

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 11 episode, "Everyday Icons," 2023. © Art21, Inc. 2023.

What defines an icon? That question is at the heart of the new season of the PBS series Art in the Twenty-First Century. For artist Alex Da Corte, icons are “characters or images or objects that exist within a world of dreams.”

In an exclusive interview aired as part of Art21’s 11th season, Da Corte reflects on his circuitous path from a student of animation who was more interested in sculpture, to becoming a next-gen Pop Artist. 

While his peers were creating works from wood and metal, Da Corte remembers being drawn to sewing and the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg. “This idea of embracing these things, softening these things that seem to be hard is my way of taking down that machismo a notch and to say, like, ‘There’s room for a gentler, more tender way of understanding what it means to be human,'” Da Corte explains.

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 11 episode, "Everyday Icons," 2023. © Art21, Inc. 2023.

Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 11 episode, “Everyday Icons,” 2023. © Art21, Inc. 2023.

From one of his earliest projects, filming himself re-staging a famous portrait of Oldenburg walking down a city street carrying a massive sculptural toothpaste bottle, the artist began his own practice of replication, taking cultural icons and re-defining them in his own manner. “Things that make up my sculptural vocabulary, but in miniature” often become the foundation for larger installations, like the sculpture of Big Bird balanced on an Alexander Calder-esque mobile that he staged for the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art rooftop commission

Da Corte often dresses up as ubiquitous characters, spanning a range of cultural touchstones from Frankenstein’s monster to the aforementioned Big Bird to the rapper Eminem to Marcel Duchamp’s famous altar-ego Rrose Sélavy. The artist collapses time and place to infuse his performances and installations with a medley of contemporary and historic references.

As a child, Da Corte moved a lot, and used his imagination as a touchstone amid constant change. “I wanted to participate in the magical world that that space allowed me to exist in,” he tells Art21.

“We are constantly negotiating and renegotiating those things to be, you know, the perfect human,” Da Corte continues. “I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it, but I know that one puts things into the world because they want to ask questions, and I hope I learn something new.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Extended Play, below.Alex Da Corte Fresh Hell” is on view at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa from April 29 through September 18, 2023.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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