Kristine MAYS

Threads of Existence

July 7 - September 1, 2022

Reception for the artist Thursday, July 7, 2022, 6-8pm. Masks and proof of Covid Vaccine required.

Kristine MAYS

everyone needs big mama


painted wire
30 x 29 x 29 inches
KMA 04

I will look after you and I will look 
after anybody you say needs to be 
looked after, any way you say. I am here. 
I brought my whole self to you. 
I am your mother.—Maya Angelou



When Kristine Mays first saw Revelations, Alvin Ailey’s iconic modern ballet, she was moved by the bodies in motion, and Ailey’s transposition to the stage of his experiences growing up as an African-American in segregated Texas. Ailey’s masterpiece gave choreographic expression to physical labor on plantations and the spiritual work of the Baptist church. As a contemporary African-American sculptor, Mays was inspired to attempt an even more radical transformation, capturing these kinds of physical and spiritual movement in thousands of interconnected strands of wire. 


Mays has developed her unique sculptural method over more than a decade. Initially exploring the sculptural qualities of beading wire she encountered as a jeweler, she has transitioned to monumental figures, each handmade by bending and hooking rebar ties with pliers. Each piece takes at least sixty hours of labor during which she gives form to a human body or garment without reliance on a mold or model. Especially remarkable are the gestural qualities that make the works appear both animate and soulful. “I am breathing life into wire,” she says. “With each work, I create a form that reveals the essence of a person and that speaks to humanity as a whole.”


Modernism is pleased to present a dozen of Mays’ large-scale wire sculptures in Threads of Existence, her first one-person exhibition with the gallery. All of the works reference African-American heritage or her own lived experience as a Black woman born and raised in San Francisco. They can be appreciated in purely formal terms in the figurative tradition of Antony Gormley, and their technical virtuosity is in the same league as the wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa. However, Mays’ work can also be fiercely political, an eloquent artistic expression of feminism akin to Anselm Kiefer’s powerful new Femmes Martyres sculpture series, and an equally powerful sculptural statement of anti-racism. 


Quotations accompanying her sculptures often provide important context for full appreciation of their content. For instance, Mays confronts body image in several sculptures of dresses, which source lines from poets such as Nayyirah Waheed and Ruby Dee. (The latter is contextualized with Dee’s dictum that “The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within - strength, courage, dignity.”)


Mays also confronts the history of slavery, and the ongoing oppression of Blacks in the United States, with a sculpture depicting a pair of overalls like those worn by laborers on plantations. Titled Buck, the work speaks to the treatment of African-American men by whites in the past and present. “The Black Buck is not viewed as a man but rather a thing,” she says, referencing victims of bigotry ranging from Emmitt Till to Ahmaud Arbery. “And when his strength, his compassion, his tolerance, his love and understanding is revealed, that is when he is the most vulnerable in a world that wants to deny that he is human.”


Exhibited in venues ranging from the California African American Museum to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Mays’ art puts humanity front and center by compelling viewers to see the people within the loops of wire. “The beauty of working with wire is that it’s been used in the foundations of buildings,” she says. “I know it has that durability to last.” Timely and topical today, her work is made to reverberate through the ages.