Sarah Crowner, Platform (Blue Green Terracotta for JC), 2022

Sarah Crowner’s Platform (Blue Green Terracotta for JC) is a site-specific installation for Chinati’s special exhibition building. Over two thousand square feet of handmade tiles, glazed turquoise blue, float above the gallery floor on a massive wooden platform. Step up onto it—as the artist intends for visitors to do—and become immersed in saturated color, glowing light, and interacting shapes. Set in a chevron pattern and animated by pulsing lines of white grout, the tiles are dynamic with movement and touch. You can feel their forms and surfaces in what is literally the clay beneath your feet. And because the platform doesn’t quite touch the wall, from which it is separated by a deep and narrow gap, the sense of being on a constructed object—as opposed to just standing on a beautifully tiled floor—is very much part of the experience of Crowner’s art.

Crowner is an abstract painter whose open approach has led her to work in the contexts of theater and dance, architecture, and clay. She created one of her first tiled platform “paintings” in 2014 for the interior of Casa Franco, a Luis Barragán-designed home (now a gallery) in Guadalajara, Mexico. This project was also the start of her ongoing relationship with Cerámica Suro, the tile manufactory that, under the direction of José Noé Suro, collaborates closely with contemporary artists to realize new pieces in clay. For Crowner, traditional craft and artisanal skill, along with the elemental alchemy of earth, water, and fire of ceramic production, all signify as part of her tile paintings. The fact that Mexico is just sixty miles from Marfa makes those connections especially relevant at Chinati. Look carefully and you may spot the paw prints of a little cat that walked across the drying tiles in the factory yard.  

Platform (Blue Green Terracotta for JC) carries a dedication to John Chamberlain (aka JC) and appears at Chinati alongside an installation of his sculptures and paintings (on loan from Judd Foundation). Crowner frequently conceives of her work in dialogue with particular artists. Her epic six-panel painting on canvas Continuum, 1963 (2010) refers directly to a piece by Bridget Riley, another artist to build optical movement and rhythm through shape, form, and color. Coincidentally, Crowner’s installation occupies the same space at Chinati where Riley’s monumental wall painting Bolt of Colour (2017), with its raceways of blue, was situated. The conversations that led to this commission began while Crowner was an artist in residence at Chinati during the museum’s major restoration of the John Chamberlain Building, where the largest permanent installation of Chamberlain’s art is on view.

This intergenerational pairing brings together two artists who imbue painting with the physicality of sculpture. Intriguingly, Crowner’s sparkling pool of blue tile may also be seen to surface a little-known project by Chamberlain, who at one point planned to build an underwater ceramic sculpture environment in an abandoned swimming pool on Chinati’s grounds.

To read more about Crowner’s work at Chinati, as well as John Chamberlain’s unrealized swimming pool project, see the essays by curator Ingrid Schaffner in the Chinati Foundation newsletter, volume 27.

Sarah Crowner (born 1974 in Philadelphia; lives in New York) studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, Paris, and received her MFA from Hunter College, New York. In 2012, her scenography for Perfect Lives (Vidas Perfectas), Robert Ashley’s 1983 opera staged in Spanish by Alex Waterman, was presented at Ballroom Marfa. In 2018, her set decor and costumes for choreographer Jessica Lang’s Garden Blue premiered with the American Ballet Theatre. A 2020 Rome Prize Fellow, she participated in the 57th Carnegie International, organized by Chinati’s curator Ingrid Schaffner. Crowner’s tile installation for her 2016 exhibition Beetle in the Leaves remains on view at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts. Her first museum exhibition to take place in Mexico opens at the Museo Amparo, Puebla, in December 2022, and will feature a major tile installation.

The Sarah Crowner commission at Chinati was made possible with dedicated support from Bob Ackerley, Joseph DiCristina, Galerie Nordenhake, Hauser & Wirth, Hill Art Foundation, The Kraus Family Foundation, Kathleen Irvin Loughlin and Christopher Loughlin, Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection, and Christian and Rebecca Patry.

Additional thanks to Cerámica Suro, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; Ramos Tile Service, El Paso, Texas; and SILLA, Marfa, Texas, for their work on the skillful fabrication of this commission.

All photos by Alex Marks.