Walead Beshty graduated with an MFA from the School of Art, Yale University, in 2002. He has since lectured, taught, and written extensively about contemporary art while exhibiting his own photographic and sculptural work internationally. Beshty is currently based in Los Angeles, where he is well-known for his large, abstract photograms and his sculptures of translucent glass and polished copper. Beshty records sensitive physical phenomena with both images and objects, although he sees his sculptures as more entropic and mundane, allowing a work to crack and smudge in the process of being shipped, installed, and viewed in galleries and museums. He conceives such abstract works with a predetermined set of rules and then exposes them to the indeterminate conditions of production. The results are dynamic compositions of calculation and risk. His work is deceptively abstract, with an undercurrent of social critique. It is ironic that such structurally degraded materials as cracked glass accumulate aesthetic value within Beshty’s system of logic, one that foregrounds the indexicality of human influence on the material world.
Beshty also produces work in a documentary style, in order to register the influence of political ideologies on the material world. One such series, Travel Pictures (2006), depicts the architecture of an unoccupied Iraqi embassy in the former East Berlin, with an accidental secondary exposure to x-ray scanners at the airport when Beshty was traveling back to the United States. The background to this series is interesting: In 2001, Beshty had learned that the embassy had been given to Iraq, in perpetuity, by the DDR. He was intrigued by the indeterminate conditions of sovereignty for both countries, even more so when the Iraq War began in 2003. Travel Pictures subjects the institutional forms of diplomacy to other regimes of security, surveillance, and political control.
Beshty’s Guadalajara Works (2013), on view at the Biennale di Venezia, is a sculptural series that explores the labor conditions of high-fired ceramics at a ceramic factory in the Jalisco region of Guadalajara, Mexico. Factories producing modern, high-fired ceramics were established in Jalisco in the 1950s and ’60s, primarily to provide tableware for restaurants and hotels. More recently, this industry has profited from international tourism and ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, while retaining its highly trained, low-wage laborers. Beshty took up residence in Jalisco in 2013 to produce a three-tiered body of work that relates the ceramics factories of Mexico to a series of frescos in the Chapel of Hospicio Cabanas in Guadalajara, painted by Jose Clemente Orozco in 1938–1939. These historic frescos, which depict various scenes related to the Spanish conquest and mechanization among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, serve as allegories for contemporary forms of exploitation.