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Tue, Feb 13, 2024 5:30pm–7:00pm

Penny Stamps Speaker Series Talk with Ken Aptekar: How to Make Old New, and Why

a traditional european painting of a man with pink and orange text imposed on top. the text reads "Lookin' for some hot stuff"
Tue, Feb 13, 2024
University of Michigan Museum of Art

Artist Ken Aptekar toys with historical paintings by using the history of art as his playground. He time-travels works from the past into the present by his repainting joined to his own texts. Here’s the idea: Paintings are nothing on their own, they start meaning something only when you start talking back to them. Aptekar turns this conviction into oil paintings on wood panels over which he bolts glass sandblasted with text. This idea animating his work extends to digital prints, and more recently, video, and illuminated manuscripts. With words disrupting reinterpreted images from art history, his works assert the value of recognizing our transhistorical bonds, society’s vexing failings, and art’s capacity to bring us together across our differences.

As COVID-19 swept into our lives, Aptekar began new work on illuminated manuscripts. Holed up in a corner of the vaulted furnace room of his house in Burgundy, France, he worked with gouache, tiny brushes, gold leaf, and calligraphy pen in his own ​“scriptorium.” He merged two very different types of communication; the exquisite, labor-intensive techniques and forms seen in medieval pages hidden away in rare book rooms were pressed into the service of messages made minute to minute on cell phones. For his talk, Aptekar will highlight the twists and turns in his shifting preoccupations that produced works at times disturbing, contemplative, and hilarious.

Born in Detroit, Aptekar received his BFA at the University of Michigan, then moved to Brooklyn to complete an MFA at Pratt Institute. Most recently, his work was featured at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria, and in the Biennale Internationale d’Autun, in Autun, France. A major commissioned solo exhibition, NACHBARN(“NEIGHBORS”), 2016, was on view at the St. Annen Museum in Lübeck, Germany, including paintings with text, silverpoint drawings, and video all based upon medieval altarpieces in the St. Annen Museum’s collection.

Previously, his work has been seen in solo exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in collaboration with the Serpentine Gallery (London), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Memorial Art Gallery (Rochester, NY), Centro da Cultura Judaica (Sao Paolo, Brazil), Musée Robert Dubois-Corneau (Brunoy, France), the New Museum (New York, NY), Douglas Cooley Gallery at Reed College (Portland, OR), Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State (State College, PA), Cummer Museum (Jacksonville, FL), and the Elaine Jacob Gallery at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). In 2012 Aptekar’s work was the subject of a survey exhibition, ​“Ken Aptekar: Look Again,” at the Beard and Weil Galleries, Wheaton College, Massachusetts.

A solo exhibition of Ken Aptekar’s work will be on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit from January 20 through March 9, 2024.

Presented by the Penny Stamps Speaker Series in partnership with Wasserman projects and co-sponsored by UMMA.

Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.


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