The instant you enter Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson, you can feel the energy shift. The hustle and bustle of the museum café is suddenly muted, as is most natural sunlight. The dimly lit exhibition feels vast and contemplative.
Head to the right, past the sparkling geode-encrusted shark, and you find yourself looking at a bright, white wall that hosts the equally bright, white urethane resin bust of a creature called Ebie.
Like simians tend to have, the pallid Ebie has wrinkles around her eyes, forehead, and neck. She’s painted with realistic tones of fleshy pink. Her wide glass eyes are fixated straight ahead at something just over your right shoulder. In a collision of nature and art, she looks frozen in time. Whether that time is the ancient past or far-off future is the question.
This meticulously detailed sculpture is neither flashy nor physically large (her head is about the size of an adult hand), but through her biological ambiguity, she demands attention, curiosity, and a prolonged inspection. She looks familiar, but at the same time, alien. She seems vaguely like one of us humans, yet she also resembles something that escaped from a dystopian sci-fi movie.
It’s impossible to avoid referencing the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes when it comes to Ebie—Swenson has fond childhood memories of the film, which features evolved human-like apes.
Such fantastical intrigue must have been one of the reasons why James Jensen—HoMA’s late curator of contemporary art—fell in love with Ebie at the 2003 New York Armory Show while curator of The Contemporary Museum. He put a hold on the mystifying piece, and with the help of funds from Jay Shidler, purchased the sculpture. Jensen later contacted Swenson and visited his Dallas studio in 2006. From there, Swenson’s relationship with the museum only continued to grow.
In 2013, the museum committed to purchasing more of Swenson’s work, and so he began what would become the rest of Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson. Five years later, and HoMA is proud to present Ebie and Swenson’s other labor-intensive sculptures in Swenson’s first-ever museum survey of his work.
Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson is on view through July 29.