P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center is pleased to present the U.S. museum premiere of Jim Shaw's large-scale installation The Donner Party (2003). This ambitious work most directly references the Donner Party's ill-fated 1846 journey across the Sierra Nevada mountains in which they were caught in a blizzard and resorted to cannibalism. The installation contains a plethora of other references as well, to historical figures, religious movements, popular culture, and, pointedly, to Judy Chicago's 1979 installation The Dinner Party. The exhibition will be on view in the Third Floor Main Gallery from May 24 through September 16, 2007.
Grounded in Shaw's interest in the influence of religious movements on American society, The Donner Party is the centerpiece of a series based on "Oism", a fictional cult invented by the artist. Supposedly founded by Annie O'Wooten in upstate New York in the mid-19th century, "Oism" trusts in reincarnation, the reverse passage of time, and a female divinity symbolized by the letter "O". The installation's twelve small cloth-covered wagons, arranged in a circular formation, are decorated with 27 tabletop sculptures created from thrift store finds, such as candy-colored place settings, Barbie dolls, toy cowboys, and a vacuum cleaner placed in the middle of a camp fire. Produced in the same collaborative spirit as Chicago's The Dinner Party—which was created under her supervision with the participation of more than 400 men and women—each sculpture in Shaw's installation was created by a different artist, yet all including an abundance of "Oist" references. On a panoramic theatrical backdrop, Shaw presents a pantheon of real and fictional characters related to the invented cult-including Saint Teresa of Avila, the Norse god Loki, Nation of Islam founder Wallace Fard, and the artist Lynda Benglis.
The P.S.1 presentation also includes the film The Initiation Ritual of the 360 Degrees (2002) and other works from the artist's "Oist" series.
Jim Shaw (b. 1952, Midland, Michigan) has been included in such major exhibitions as the 1991 and 2002 Whitney Biennials, Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1992), the 2004 SITE Santa Fe Biennial, and the 2002 Biennale of Sydney. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Casino Luxembourg; MAGASIN Center of Contemporary Art, Grenoble, France; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Frankfurt Kunstverein; and St. Louis Museum of Art. Shaw lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Jim Shaw: The Donner Party is organized by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss in collaboration with Alison Gingeras, special curatorial advisor.