I have always loved to travel. Since I was 10 or 12, I can remember looking forward to the next place I was going. I am fascinated by seeing new places, observing, putting them into context with other places I’ve been. Travel widens my world, connects my world, diversifies my world. It’s one of the reasons I like artists. Most artists are well-traveled, having been to shows and museums and participated in residencies around the world. It gives them perspective. Sanford Biggers was born and raised in Los Angeles, attended college at Morehouse in Atlanta, graduate school in Chicago, had a residency in Rome, lived three years in Japan and now lives in Brooklyn.
What an extraordinarily wide set of geographies, people and cultures to draw from in his artwork. These are only a few of the many locales life has taken him.
Ahead of Bigger’s 2021 solo show at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I spoke to him about his travels and asked him to recommend his favorite arts destinations in each of these locations he knows well.
“I think most recently for me I’ve been enjoying going to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) because I grew up with it, basically, I grew up going there as a kid with field trip groups and to the La Brea Tar Pits, so I have some very nostalgic associations with it and also just the spectrum of work that they show and the contemporary work that they’re even showing now,” Biggers said.
He now has work in LACM’s permanent collection, a special honor for any artist to have pieces in their “hometown” art museum.
“It’s very gratifying and there’s nothing like being appreciated in your hometown which often is a hard appreciation to gain, but for the exact same reasons I enjoyed going as a kid and then going to it over the decades, being in that collection means that somebody else can see my work and be inspired by it as it is in context with all these other works and artists,” Biggers explained.
“When I was living there, it was a while ago, but my favorite place to go when I was there was the Hammonds House. It was near Morehouse college. Smaller exhibitions of artists that may not have been shown at the larger places around town, and some cultural exhibitions as well,” Biggers remembers. “They will show anyone from Romare Bearden all the way to Joseph Delaney. Frank Toby Martin, who’s one of my mentors, showed there, so it was a good place to learn about contemporary Black art.”
“The Renaissance Society – the Ren – it’s on the campus of the University of Chicago and they do installations and small curated shows that usually focus on anywhere from one to five artists at a time,” Biggers said. “It was a place where I was introduced to a lot of contemporary artists when I was there and it’s very specific, it’s a small gallery, these are really in-depth tutorial projects rather than a survey that you might see in a museum, these are really tight, tightly wound shows.”
Biggers also made a point to mention the Smart Museum also at the University of Chicago.
The Naoshima Museum – it’s a small island, like a day trip away from Osaka, and they’ve basically converted the entire island into site-specific installations and then a contemporary art center there that was built by Tadao Ando, it’s gorgeous.
What impact did Japan have on Biggers?
“It left a huge impression on me just in terms of the visual culture there, and the eye for detail, and the care and the sensitivity and the intent, even all the way down to packaging, all the way down to the garbage on the street, the way it would be organized and tightly put away – there’s an ever present consideration of aesthetic space,” he said.
“Central Montermartini is a place where they have classic sculptures next to contemporary sculpture and it’s in an industrial complex that is no longer in use so it’s interesting see the classical works next to industrial machines from the 20th century,” Biggers said.
“The Noguchi Museum – the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Queens,” Biggers responds instantly. “That is the museum that’s dedicated to the work of Isamu Noguchi, Japanese American sculptor and designer, and he literally made the museum himself and had a studio attached to it so it was a place for him – because he worked in lots of different genres – he had the foresight to compile and create his own museum so that his work can be shown properly and in the environment in context that he wanted. He’s probably most known for doing the sort of rice paper light designs that you see at IKEA, they are adapted from some of his early designs, but he was an abstract sculptor.”