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Sarah Cain

Day after day on this beautiful stage

April 1August 27, 2023

Henry Art Gallery

This image illustrates a link to the exhibition titled Sarah Cain<bR> <i>Day after day on this beautiful stage</i>

Installation images courtesy of The Henry Art Gallery

Known for her exuberant abstractions, Sarah Cain (b. 1979, Albany, NY) often extends her practice beyond the canvas into installation, site-specific painting, stained glass, and furniture. Her work draws from sources as disparate as Abstract Expressionism, graffiti, and pop music, and incorporates materials as diverse as sand, feathers, jewelry, crystals, and fabric. At the Henry, the artist has created an immersive architectural intervention in dialogue with the double-height architecture of the museum’s East Gallery.

Cain’s muscular, gestural painting embraces a strategically intuitive power that both undermines and expands our expectations of what has been historically considered “serious” abstract painting. Her color-soaked palette often mixes with a wide range of found objects that in turn complement her titles, which range in reference from the sweet to the erotic, from the mystical to the political. Cain redefines abstraction in feminist terms as an architecture for transformative, embodied, emotive experience. Her work emphatically insists on the value of feminine, queer, and other “othered” aesthetics, intentionally subverting male-dominated art historical traditions.

At the beginning of her career, Cain made dozens of site-specific paintings in abandoned buildings; by nature, these were ephemeral works. As her practice evolved, she has continued to create massive on-site works and preserved the impulse to treat painting seriously, but not preciously. For this exhibition, Cain transforms the gallery into a single monumental painting that wraps the floor and walls, created entirely on-site. Extending the full height of the walls, the work connects the two floors, creating different vantage points and experiences on each level. On the mezzanine level, viewers first encounter the artist’s suspended stained glass piece placed in the window, where it interacts with the exterior environment in constant flux depending on conditions of light and shadow. In the lower gallery, the work creates an immersive and surprisingly intimate, energizing space for the viewer. The audience becomes physically a part of the work as they enter, and can directly engage with the couch sculptures. Enhancing this direct intimacy are a suite of the artist’s $ Talismans, which transform the everyday item into a magical object of power.

Often referencing lyrics from popular or particularly resonant songs in her titles, Cain has chosen Day after day on this beautiful stage, a line from the 1998 Silver Jews song “We Are Real,” for this exhibition. In it, musician/poet David Berman captures the painful yet transformative experience of creative life (or perhaps just life itself), and embraces how we retain meaning over time despite its darkness and our inevitable mortality.

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Sarah Cain: Day after day on this beautiful stage is organized by Shamim M. Momin, Director of Curatorial Affairs. Generous support is provided by 4Culture, The U District Partnership, and City of Seattle ARTS.