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  • Source: NPR
  • Author: Editors
  • Date: MARCH 18, 2017
  • Format: ONLINE

From Striking Photos To Surprising Stained Glass, A Wide-Ranging Whitney Biennial

Raúl De Nieves' billboard-size Biennial contribution, beginning & the end neither & the otherwise betwixt & between the end is the beginning & the end, is made from everyday material like tape, paper, glue and beads. Matthew Carasella/Courtesy of The Whitney Museum

Fear And A Deadline

Artist Raúl de Nieves made one of the largest pieces of art at this year’s Whitney Biennial: a huge, mock stained-glass window that he created in just four months.

De Nieves makes everything by hand, from beaded sculptures to paper and glue costumes. Growing up in Michoacán, Mexico, his mom taught him and his siblings how to crochet, and they learned how to sew in school so they could make their own clothing. Today, de Nieves makes art out of junk like tiny, plastic beads or scraps of fabric. It’s tedious, time-consuming work, so he was really nervous when he met with Whitney curators to talk about what he might do for the Biennial.

“We’re walking through the museum and then we get to a point where we’re staring through 17-foot-tall windows,” he recalls. “And they’re like, ‘We thought you could maybe work with this.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ ”

De Nieves had never worked on something that big — as in billboard big. At first, he considered using machines to help him finish the project, but Whitney Biennial Curator Chris Lew nixed the idea. “That felt a little bit outside of the way that he works,” Lew says.

So for four months, de Nieves worked by hand and non-stop.

The resulting window fills the room. There’s a dragon, figures dancing, green flies and white doves. It looks like cathedral-worthy stained glass, but there isn’t actually any glass in it. In typical de Nieves fashion, it’s made entirely from everyday material: tape, paper, glue, beads and more.

Chris Lew is thrilled with the result, especially since you can see the colors from outside the building. “It kind of announces itself before you even arrive,” he says.

And the artist is even more excited: “When we put up the last panels … I was like, ‘Aaaaaaah!’ … I am just so happy that the challenge was there and that I said yes.”

Nothing motivates like fear and a deadline.

De Nieves' Somos Monstros is also on display at the Whitney Biennial.
Courtesy of The Whitney Museum

Editor Rose Friedman, digital producer Nicole Cohen and photo editors Ariel Zambelich and Meg Kelly contributed to this story.