The first words out of my mouth were, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” I had just walked into the install at M WOODS of Lucy Sparrow’s immersive, ambitious (even for an artist who makes installations with 31,000 pieces) Felt Art Imaginarium. hours after a trans-Pacific flight, and I’m staring up at a felt-to-actual size replica of Michelangelo’s David. If you are lucky enough to see it in Florence, its incredible larger than your imagination. Now seeing it in felt, in China, I knew Lucy had decided to not only suspend our belief in what art history is as we know it, but to reaffirm that our beliefs that art history can be rewritten even 500 years after their initial creation.
Across thousands of years of art, and over 70+ plus works, all replicated to exact size, Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Art Imaginarium is not just incredible due to the volume, because we have come to expect that with her interactive installations. Or that it is all made of felt, because even though these works look incredibly vivid with the new materials they are made with, but Sparrow has suspended our belief in the past with felt as her medium. (And I did indeed love her anecdote while walking the show the morning after her opening, that she was drawn to the works that only needed felt and not extra painted details.) What I found most interesting is my own personal feelings toward the most famous pieces of art in the world, because none of these works were deemed important or famous by anyone I’ve ever known. These works are famous because they are… famous? Through Chinese scrolls to Damien Hirst’s shark (which to me is the funny wink-wink of the show), you are constantly asking yourself how our visual culture and history are made up of these paintings and artifacts, and more specifically, how much the West plays into this dominating visual identity.
And not only our visual culture, but there are brilliant insights into the ways in which we consume culture. Felt as a material is accessible, mass-produced, mass-used. Applying the material to her more consumer-centric shows, Sparrow Mart most recently, was a more direct way of talking about the point. But with Felt Art Imaginarium, it’s a different kind of indulgence on display, that of visual conquering, of historical gains. That Sparrow loves painting and art history gives the show both an umbrella of honoring and critique, simultaneously.
Through Terracotta warriors and ancient artifacts, to the van Gogh, Matisse, Nara and Haring works of the past few centuries, Sparrow runs the marathon of art history in this exhibition. It contains all the best parts of her practice: playful, serious, ambitious, immersive. And now with her signature gift shop-felt objects becoming their own fine art collectibles (and the long lines in Beijing to get a felt banana), Sparrow is blazing her own path in a Kaws-ian way, where everything she touches has become an event and every single detail has gone unnoticed. It’s both grand and intimate. —Evan Pricco
Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Art Imaginarium is on view at M WOODS in Beijing through October 7, 2019. The show will tour in China afterwards.
Read our cover story with Sparrow from Spring 2019 here.