Crown St. Window

Jeff Ostergren: Death Masks

April 6—April 28, 2018

Jeff Ostergren, installation view Death Masks, 2018. Photo credit Jessica Smolinski.

Artspace is pleased to present Death Masks, a site responsive installation of new works by mixed media artist Jeff Ostergren.  Ostergren uses the death mask as a foil for creating figurative work that unites representations the human flesh with addictive materials of bodily consumption.  These sculptures are composed of a variety of over-the-counter medicines and goods, including pharmaceuticals, energy drinks, snack foods, magazines, pills, bottle caps, and credit cards, which he indents, imbeds, and mixes into his clay, plastic and wax molds.

This body of work is inspired by the ancient tradition of death mask making, as well as the contemporary sculptural work of Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), and the Iroquois Native American tradition of clay pot making.  Historically, death masks have served spiritual, commercial and scientific purposes.  In ancient Egypt, masks were created in the likeness of the deceased, and interred with the body, to ensure the individual’s safe and recognizable passage into the afterlife.  In medieval times, they served as memento moris, used in funeral ceremonies, and kept in libraries, museums, and universities, with the possibilities of being replicated in marble or stone, used by portrait painters and sculptors, and even sold to the masses.  Before the advent of photography in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were used as records to identify unknown bodies.

In contrast to their traditional forms, Ostergren’s masks are quite abstract.  They rely on the viewer’s impulse to anthropomorphize an abstraction and interpret the material as a face.  Like the traditional forms, each mask is recognizably different and unique, what Ostergren describes as an instinctual play on “facial recognition software”.  In this object encounter, the viewer might shirk back with repulsion, unable to deny the forces of engineering, marketing, and ingestion that target us in the marketplace and in turn make us into what we are.


On Thursday, April 26 from 5:30-6:30pm, Jeff Ostegren will be part of the Artist Panel “On Color”, moderated by artist, scholar and philosopher Megan Craig.  Ostergren and three other members of Artspace’s Flatfile Collection will discuss the ways color and its material specificity track ever-changing cultural, political, and psycho-social forces.

Jeff Ostergren has exhibited work in locations around the world including Los Angeles, Vancouver, and the Czech Republic. Most recently he was included in the exhibition “Lost & Found” at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. He also screened a work in Video Snack 6 in Brooklyn in Fall 2017. His practice explores the politics of the engineering, marketing, and ingestion of synthetic consumables, such as pharmaceuticals, snack foods, energy drinks, and hand sanitizer. He infuses these into traditional media to produce installations which include paintings, sculptures, videos, and writing. He is a recipient of a 2017 Artist’s Resource Trust Grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation. He also has a curatorial practice, including the upcoming exhibition “False Flag: The Space Between Reason and Paranoia” at Franklin Street Works in Fall 2018. He received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA in 2006, following upon receiving a BA in a double major of anthropology and gender studies at Rice University in Houston, TX in 1998.