b. 1969 in Cologne, Germany; Lives and works in Oakland, CA
Kota Ezawa (b. 1969 in Cologne, Germany) is best known for his light-boxes, works on paper and animations that make use of found images, video, and film to comment on contemporary culture, appropriation, and historical events. Described by the artist himself as “moving paintings,” Ezawa’s works serve as conduits of events for both history and pop culture, translating them into personal memories and experiences. His works have the ability to transcend the specificity of the image into a more universal realm by reducing the forms and content to their most basic elements.
“Over the past 15 years I developed a style of drawing where I manually trace over existing films, videos, photographs and paintings,” Ezawa explained. “The process has changed gradually. My early drawings were very reduced and minimal. Over time they have become more elaborate. In a way, I’m creating some kind of ghost image of the original. I found that these ghost images emit some kind of power that I’m trying to tap into.”
Ezawa’s imagery is characterized by stylized characters and landscapes, flat planes of color, and geometric forms. His films and slideshows play with ideas of appropriation and originality, asking what it means to document an event, how one can be original in an age saturated by images and information, and what the terms of appropriation are in a time in which aesthetic borrowing is a part of everyday online life. His thought-provoking works reimagine important events and significant artworks in order to raise probing questions about their meaning, and explore their impact on and relevance to our current cultural climate. His first major project Simpson Verdict (2002) is an animated video condensing the denouement of O.J. Simpson’s historic trial into a compelling, muted choreography of nervous gestures and tics. His later Crime of Art series (2017), was inspired by the thirteen masterpieces stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The works Ezawa produced in response to this loss are animation-style synopses of the original works, drawn on glowing light box transparencies. Ezawa’s went on to create his National Anthem series (2019) in reaction to national protests staged by NFL teams kneeling in response to police brutality in the United States. These works were first exhibited at the 2019 Whitney Biennial.
Long interested in the cultural weight of photography, Ezawa questions the medium’s validity as a mediator of actual events and experiences by reducing complex visual information to its most essential, two-dimensional elements.
He studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and the San Francisco Art Institute before getting his M.F.A. from Stanford University. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.
Ezawa has received a number of fellowships, awards, grants, and residencies, including the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 2003; a SECA Art Award in 2006 and a Eureka Fellowship in 2010.
His work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions at SITE Santa Fe (2017); Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012) and the St. Louis Art Museum (2008). In 2019, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 2017, he was featured in the traveling exhibitionLeonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Ezawa has further exhibited at Kota Ezawa: Two Views at the Hilliard University Art Museum (2019) and the Paint Unpaint at the John Hartell Gallery at Cornell University (2019).
Ezawa’s work is in included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, University of California, CA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Israel Museum, Israel; J. Paul Getty Museum, CA; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Germany; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Canada; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Netherlands Media Arts Institute, The Netherlands; The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, RI; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Yale University Art Gallery, CT.
Kota Ezawa: The Crime of Art