In the late 19th century, upon seeing a daguerreotype photo for the first time, French artist Paul Delaroche declared, “From today, painting is dead.” Since the utterance of that statement, contemporary art has been influenced by this rationale. As new art forms emerge, like digital art or NFTs, declarations of older mediums, like painting and film photography, are thought to belong to the past. In this ongoing jostle for contemporaneity and new media, only a certain number of artists have managed to stay above the fray. These remaining artists represented art that transcends any one medium, pushing the social and cultural boundaries of the time.
Sandy Skoglund, a multi-media, conceptual artist whose several decades of work have been very influential, introduced new ideas, and challenged simple categorizations, is one of those unique figures in contemporary art. Skoglund’s oeuvre is truly special. Through working with various mediums, from painting and photography to sculpture and installation, she captures the imaginations of generations of collectors and art enthusiasts, new and old.
Skoglund’s fame as a world-renowned artist grew as a result of her conceptual work, with an aesthetic that defied a concentration on any one medium and used a variety of mixed media to create visually striking installations. Skoglund’s intricate installations evidence her work ethic and novel approach to photography. She worked meticulously, creating complex environments, sometimes crafting every component in an image, from anything that could be observed behind the lens, on the walls, the floor, ceiling, and beyond.
In her work, she incorporated elements of installation art, sculpture, painting, and perhaps one can even consider the spirit of performance with the inclusion of human figures. This highly detailed, crafted environment introduced a new conversation in the dialogue of contemporary photography, creating vivid, intense images replete with information and layered with symbolism and meaning. Indeed, Sandy Skoglund began to embrace her position as a tour de force in American con- temporary art in the late 1970s.
Since the 1970s, Skoglund has been highly acclaimed. By the 1980s and 90s, her work was collected and exhibited internationally by the top platforms for contemporary art worldwide. She began to show her work at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the MOMA and the Whitney in NYC, the Padaglione d’Arte Contemporanea in Milan, the Centre d’Arte in Barcelona, the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan, and the Kunstmuseum de Hague in the Hague, Netherlands to name a few.
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Sandy Skoglund moved around the U.S. during her childhood. Sk- oglund lived in various states, including Maine, Connecticut, and California. She worked at a snack bar in Disneyland, on the production line at Sanders Bakery in Detroit, decorating pastries with images and lettering, and then as a student at the Sorbonne and Ecole du Louvre in Paris, studying art history. Ultimately, these experiences greatly influenced the formation of her practice. Through studying art, reading Kafka and Proust, and viewing French New Wave cinema, Skoglund began to conceptualize a distinct visual rhetoric. Eventually, she graduated from Smith College with a degree in art history and studio art and, in due course, pursued a master’s degree in painting at the University of Iowa.
Skoglund’s art practice creates an aesthetic that brings into question accepted cultural norms. Moreover, she employs complex visual techniques to create inventive and surreal installations, photograph-ing the completed sets from one point of view. Her work is often so labor-intensive and demanding that she can only produce one new image a year. She injects her conceptual inquiries into the real world by fabricating objects and designing installations that subvert reality and often presents her work on metaphorical and poetic levels. Skoglund’s themes cover consumer culture, mass production, multiplication of everyday objects onto an almost fetishistic overabundance, and the objectification of the material world.
“To me, a world without artificial enhancement is unimaginable, and harshly limited to raw nature by itself without human intervention.” – Sandy Skoglund
Sandy Skoglund challenges any straightforward interpretation of her photographs in much of her work. As a deep thinker and cultural critic, Skoglund layers her work through many symbolisms that go beyond the artwork’s initial absurdity. We can see that by further analyzing the relevance and perception of her subjects in society. She is a complex thinker and often leaves her work open to many interpretations.
“Sandy Skoglund shapes, bridges, and transforms the plastic mainstream of the visual arts into a complex dynamic that is both parody and convention, experiment, and treatise.” – Judith Van Baron, PhD
During the time of COVID, with restrictions throughout the country, Sandy Skoglund revisited much of the influential work that she had made in the previous 30 years. Reflecting on her best-known images, Skoglund began printing alternative shots from some of her striking installations. These new prints offered Skoglund the opportunity to delve into work that had been sold out for decades. This global cultural pause allowed her the pleasure of time, enabling her to revisit and reconsider the choices made in final images over the decades of photography shoots.
As a passionate artist, who uses the mediums of sculpture, painting, photography, and installation, and whose concepts strike at the heart of American individuality, Skoglund’s work opens doors to reinvention, transformation, and new perspectives. As a conceptual art student and later a professional artist and educator, Sandy Skoglund has created a body of work that reimagines a world of unlimited possibilities. Skoglund’s aesthetic searches for poetic quests that suggest the endless potential to create alternative realities while reimagining the real world.