Kaari Upson

November 27, 2007 - February 17, 2008


Kaari Upson was born in San Bernardino, California, and lives in Los Angeles. She studied art at the New York Studio School and at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, where she received her BFA in 2004 and her MFA in 2007. She has participated in exhibitions at High Energy Constructs, Los Angeles, and 507 Rose, Venice, California, as well as in numerous shows at the galleries of CalArts. This is Upson's first museum exhibition.

About the Exhibition

By Ali Subotnick


At first she seemed a little nuts, high-strung, sort of like a cheerleader on speed. So much to look at—drawings, a table made of charred wood, paintings, a red gingham Playboy Bunny outfit straight out of an X-rated episode of Hee Haw. Along the floor were stacks of file boxes, and snapshots filled the walls. Visual information burst out of every corner. Then she started to tell the story, or stories, I should say. There’s this guy named Larry. He was a bit of a playboy, always hanging out with the ladies, into Hugh Hefner and Frisbee and astrology and self-improvement; he even attended EST in the ‘80s. Then the story turned into a fantasy, adventure, and romance novel with multiple endings.


Upson found some personal items that the guy had apparently left behind. She took on the task of researching him and gave him a multidimensional life while merging his world with her own. She destroyed any notion of separation between herself, the artist, and her “unsub” (unknown subject). Digging into his past, searching for answers and leads into who he was and why he did the things he did, while at the same time creating fantasy and conjecture, she evolved from reflective artist (she was trained as a painter) into private investigator, and eventually all objectivity disintegrated. He became her obsession. Her lover. Her nemesis. Her muse. Her father. This was not even about finding out who Larry was anymore. She had crossed the line and blindly leapt into an alternate world. As she explains it, “The objective reality of the man I construct collapses into the subjective fiction I create, until they merge and I am more him than he is.”(1)


In the beginning she relied heavily on the Internet and was able to gain access to a lot of information quite easily and legally. Then she moved on to a more intuitive approach: she had his handwriting analyzed and got his-and-her astrological charts. She painted a portrait of him, and while it was still wet, smashed it face-to-face with her own self-portrait. Their faces literally merge in these “kiss” paintings. She carefully studied the photos and facts and painted incredibly small, almost fetishized compositions of snapshots and found documents. She then photographed these miniature paintings at the highest resolution possible (the size used for fingerprint analysis) and blew them up so that they operate as forensic documents revealing fingerprints, hairs from the paintbrush (and from the artist), and pieces of lint and dust. But all these traces are from the artist, and the enlarged images only took him more out of focus. Here she began to collapse her own identity into his as her physical evidence superseded clues about him. More

Ali Subotnick is a curator at the Hammer Museum.

1. All quotations are taken from Kaari Upson's MFA thesis, California Institute for the Arts, Los Angeles, 2007

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