Willie Cole (born 1955 in Newark, New Jersey) is a noted contemporary American sculptor , printer, and conceptual and visual artist His work uses contexts of postmodern eclecticism, and combines references and appropriation from African and African-American imagery He also has used Dada’s readymades and Surrealism’s transformed objects, as well as icons of American pop culture or African and Asian masks
Willie Cole grew up in Newark, New Jersey He attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1976, and continued his studies at the Art Students League of New York from 1976 to 1979
Willie Cole is the recipient of many awards, including the 2006 David C Driskell Prize, the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African-American art and art history, established by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia Cole is represented by Alexander and Bonin Gallery in New York; and by Guido Maus, beta pictoris gallery / Maus Contemporary in Birmingham, AL
Cole is best known for assembling and transforming ordinary domestic and used objects such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes, hair dryers, bicycle parts, wooden matches, lawn jockeys, and other discarded appliances and hardware, into imaginative and powerful works of art and installations
In 1989, Cole garnered attention in the art world with works using the steam iron as a motif Cole imprinted iron scorch marks on a variety of media, showing not only their wide-ranging decorative potential but also to reference his Cole’s African-American heritage He used the marks to suggest the transport and branding of slaves, the domestic role of black women, and ties to Ghanaian cloth design and Yoruba gods
Through the repetitive use of single objects in multiples, Cole’s assembled sculptures acquire a transcending and renewed metaphorical meaning, or become a critique of our consumer culture Cole’s work is generally discussed in the context of postmodern eclecticism, combining references and appropriation ranging from African and African-American imagery, to Dada’s readymades and Surrealism’s transformed objects, and icons of American pop culture or African and Asian masks, into highly original and witty assemblages Some of Cole’s interactive installations also draw on simple game board structures that include the element of chance while physically engaging the viewer
His “Anne Klein With a Baby in Transit,” from 2009, uses discarded high-heeled shoes to depict a mother and child The well-worn black shoes combine to recall traditional African sculptures It was a gift from the Brenden Mann Foundation to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Willie Cole’s work has been the subject of several one-person museum exhibitions: Montclair Art Museum (2006), University of Wyoming Art Museum (2006), the Tampa Museum of Art (2004), Miami Art Museum (2001), Bronx Museum of the Arts (2001) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998). Several of his sculptures were included in “Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents,” which opened in March 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2010, a survey exhibition of his work on paper (1975-2010) took place at the James Gallery of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and later travelled to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art at the University of Alabama and the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, NJ. In January 2013, Complex Conversations: Willie Cole Sculptures and Wall Works opened at Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The exhibition will then travel to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro.