Sondra Perry: A Terrible Thing

A. Will Brown, Assistant Curator

April 28, 2019August 11, 2019

As the inaugural recipient of Toby’s Prize—a biennial award made possible by Toby Devan Lewis, philanthropist and a founding board member of moCa Cleveland—Sondra Perry (1986, Perth Amboy, NJ)  presents A Terrible Thing, a new video and installation-based work. A Terrible Thing offers new ways of experiencing the often-invisible yet ever-present architecture, labor, and infrastructure of institutions, and in this case moCa Cleveland itself. Perry’s engagement with digital tools, software, images and videos found online, and post-production technical motifs, reflects on the use of digital technology as an expression of power and a tool for building collectivity.

A Terrible Thing stems in part from Perry’s research into the history of blacksmithing as a form of highly skilled labor that, like other trades, creates the building blocks of infrastructure and architecture. Her interest in blacksmithing extends to the nature of the chemical reaction that occurs when human skin touches metal; a small layer of skin dies when contact is made, and a particular odor is released into the air. This transformation mirrors her interest in exploring the interplay between how people make spaces, and how spaces and materials shape people. Perry also weaves moments from the history of Cleveland’s once bustling Euclid Avenue corridor and the past life of what is now called the Uptown district into this new body of work. In the context of the museum, Perry’s A Terrible Thing offers a detailed narrative description of the labor and environment behind the production of exhibitions, and the circumstances and changes that surround urban development projects. 

This, and all forthcoming Toby’s Prize exhibitions, will include a body of new work made for presentation at moCa Cleveland and a corresponding catalogue.   

Sondra Perry earned her MFA from Columbia University (2015) and a BFA from Alfred University (2012). In 2017, she was awarded the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize from the Seattle Art Museum, which culminated in the exhibition, Eclogue for[in]HABITABILITY. Perry’s solo exhibitions include, Typhoon coming on, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, UK (2018); Chromatic Saturation, Disjecta, Portland, OR (2018); Sondra Perry: flesh out, Squeaky Wheel, Buffalo, NY (2017); and Resident Evil, The Kitchen, New York (2016). Selected group exhibitions include, The Body Electric, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2018); Family Pictures, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH (2018); Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Boston, MA (2018); We Just Fit, You and I, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA (2017); Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn (2016); and Greater New York, MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2015). Spanning the last five years, Perry has screened her videos and presented talks at institutions including the Vera List Center at The New School, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Artists’s Institute, New York, among others.