Iris [Abu Dhabi]
Household gloss paint on canvas
48 x 48 inches
Born in 1967 in Sevenoaks, U.K., Sarah Morris grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. She received a BA from Brown University, Providence (1989), and then participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York (1989–90). She is celebrated for her geometric abstract paintings, which explore the interplay between the physical architecture in cities and the psychology of urban environments. Revealing the politicized nature of such dynamics, her images evoke urban vistas and motifs found on buildings. For instance, in her Midtown series (1998–99), Morris uses the flatness of the geometry to confront both the skyscraper-dominated terrain of Manhattan and the traditional Minimalist grid. However, the grid is tilted and manipulated to give rise to an illusion of depth. The brightly pulsating colors of glossy, house paint in opaque shapes recall a sense of emptiness characteristic of the contemporary urban experience. In the ensuing decade, she responded to specific topologies and attributes of other cities: the bombardment of neon in Las Vegas; the administrative buildings and halls of power in Washington, D.C.; the poolside glamour of Miami; and the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles.
These paintings parallel her filmic exploration of these cities, captured in what became her signature style: long shots from unexpected angles are set to hypnotic electronic music by the artist Liam Gillick, revealing truths hidden in plain sight. These films defy outright narrative sequencing and invite viewers to bring their own lived experience and preconceptions into dialogue with the abstract shots. For Los Angeles (2004), the artist turned her lens on the superficiality and indulgence of celebrity culture as magnified during the week preceding the Academy Awards. In Beijing (2008), a feature-length portrait of the city made during the anticipated arrival of the Summer Olympics, Morris juxtaposed banality of daily life and the spectacle of the Games. In this transnational melodrama about China’s self-styled emergence as a superpower onto the twenty-first-century world stage, the key figures in that narrative—former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, most decorated Olympian and American swimmer Michael Phelps, and former Beijing mayor Liu Qi—take center stage. This poignant document of an extraordinary historical juncture was included in the Guggenheim Museum exhibition, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (2017–18, traveled to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao  and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [2018–19]).