The sculptures are casts of hand-crocheted and knitted blankets, many of which were used as templates for her abstract paintings. Collected over decades, these textiles have lent themselves to different modes of “usefulness,” functioning first as objects of comfort and care before becoming the physical framework for fine art objects, losing their original form during this transformation. Through the quasi-alchemical process of casting, Grabner reinvents these humanly-scaled domestic objects and relies upon her chosen medium to change the quotidian into the heroic. These forms are installed upright on pedestals, drooping downward, as if hung on an invisible clothesline.
Grabner’s work is derived from identifying, indexing, and tracing patterns that are the backdrop to a domestic sphere and uncomplicated geometries. These patterns—ranging from the complex to the simple—underscore the organizational structures and limitation within the banalities of everyday life. Wisconsin-born, Grabner works in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, video and sculpture. She has created a multi-faceted and dynamic career by incorporating writing, curating and teaching with a studio practice grounded in process and productivity.
As David Norr writes in the introduction to her exhibition at MoCA, Cleveland, “All of Grabner’s activities are driven by distinctive values and ideas: working outside of dominant systems, working tirelessly, working across platforms and towards community.” In a recent conversation with artist Anoka Faruqee for BOMB Magazine, Grabner describes her process by saying “…indexing by way of crude stenciling has always been a way for me to achieve that sweet spot between abstraction and representation-to have something handmade without showing the hand.”
Michelle Grabner holds an MA in Art History and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. Grabner is the Crown Family Professor of Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she joined its faculty in 1996. Other recent faculty appointments include: Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, Yale University School of Art, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her writing has been published in Artforum, Modern Painters, Frieze, Art Press, and Art-Agenda, among others. Grabner also runs The Suburban and The Poor Farm with her husband, artist Brad Killam. She co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art along with Anthony Elms and Stuart Comer. Currently Grabner and Jens Hoffmann are working as co-artistic directors for FRONT, a triennial art exhibition in Cleveland and vicinity opening in July 2018.
She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, INOVA, The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Ulrich Museum, Wichita, Kansas; and University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal. She has been included in group exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Tate St. Ives, UK; and Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerand. Her work is included in the permanent collection of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois ; MUDAM, Luxemburg; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; Daimler Contemporary, Berlin, Germany; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.