Strange Arrivals at the Unintended

Shahzia Sikander curates a mini-exhibition with a maxed-out focus on detail, the body, and architecture.

A detail of Sikander’s Provenance, the Invisible Hand (2009). Photo: Matt Flynn/courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to see Shahzia Sikander at the Cooper-Hewitt, where the Pakistani-born, New York–based artist known for revamping miniature painting was in discussion with MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry. During the talk, Sikander and Lowry elaborated on themes addressed throughout Shahzia Sikander Selects, the latest of the Cooper-Hewitt’s rotating series of mini-exhibitions drawn from its extensive permanent holdings.

By amassing a seemingly random selection of works, Sikander seeks to create new links among a range of material, including medical illustrations, landscape drawings, political cartoons, and traditional portraiture. She notes that all of the works on view share a maxed-out focus on detail, the body, and architecture; many also exhibit folds, flaps, and other intricate formal innovations. For example, look at the near-obsessive execution of the copper-plate engraving below, created by the landscape architect Batty Langley in 1728 (and designed, in part, to depict the “regular irregularity” of nature).

More from Metropolis

Courtesy the University of Rochester Libraries Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation

Also noteworthy is Sikander’s interest in elaborate titles. Below is Donde hay ganas hay mana (Where There’s a Will There’s a Way), an etching by Goya published circa 1864.

Courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

In Provenance: The Invisible Hand, a work produced for the museum, she points toward gaps in knowledge and history in order to provide a humorous, sometimes ironic—and always beautiful—means of transforming them. As Lowry notes, Sikander not only riffs on the codified tradition of miniature painting, she uses it as a lens through which she can, in her words, “elaborate narrative exterior psychological spaces”—yet without straying too far from general, everyday themes.

Photo: Matt Flynn/courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Shahzia Sikander Selects is on view at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, until September 7. Stalemate, a new video installation by Sikander, opens tomorrow at New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and runs until May 2.

Recent Projects