Tony Oursler (born 1957) is an American multimedia and installation artist. He completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the California Institute for the Arts, Valencia, California in 1979. His art covers a range of mediums working with video, sculpture, installation, performance and painting. The artist currently lives and works in New York City. He is married to painter Jacqueline Humphries.
Tony Oursler is known for his fractured-narrative handmade video tapes including The Loner (1980) and EVOL (1984). These works involve elaborate sound tracks, painted sets, stop-action animation and optical special effects created by the artist. The early videotapes have been exhibited extensively in alternative spaces and museums, they are distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix. His early installation works are immersive dark-room environments with video, sound, and language mixed with colorful constructed sculptural elements. In these projects, Oursler experimented with methods of removing the moving image from the video monitor using reflections in water, mirrors, glass and other devices. For example, L-7, L-5, exhibited at The Kitchen in 1983, used the translucent quality of video reflected on broken glass.
Oursler began working with small LCD video projectors in 1991 in his installation The Watching presented at documenta 9, featuring his first video doll and dummy. This work utilizes handmade soft cloth figures combined with expressive faces animated by video projection. Oursler then produced a series of installations that combined found objects and video projections. Judy (1993) explored the relationship between multiple personality disorder and mass media. Get Away II features a passive/aggressive projected figure wedged under a mattress that confronts the viewer with blunt direct address. These installations led to great popular and critical acclaim.
Signature works have been his talking lights, such as Streetlight (1997), his series of video sculptures of eyes with television screens reflected in the pupils, and ominous talking heads such as Composite Still Life (1999). An installation called Optics (1999) examines the polarity between dark and light in the history of the camera obscura. In his text "Time Stream", Oursler proposed that architecture and moving image installation have been forever linked by the camera obscura noting that cave dwellers observed the world as projections via peep holes. Oursler's interest in the ephemeral history of the virtual image lead to large scale public projects and permanent installations by 2000.
Public Projects: 2000-2009
The Public Art Fund and Artangel commissioned the Influence Machine in 2000. This installation marks the artist's first major outdoor project and thematically traced the development of successive communication devices from the telegraph to the personal computer as a means of speaking with the dead. Oursler used smoke, trees and buildings as projection screens in Madison Square Park NYC and Soho Square London. He then completed a number of permanent public projects in Barcelona, New Zealand, Arizona including "Braincast" at the Seattle Public Library. In 2009 he created a series of commissioned video installations at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, New York.
Tony Oursler:Monsters, Tony Oursler & éditions Take5
Oursler was part of the musical and performance group, "Poetics", with fellow California Institute of the Arts students Mike Kelley and John Miller. "Mike played the drums and I sang and we both played organ -- we both bonded on that probably because of our Catholic upbringing. Though to say 'played' is an exaggeration; we made noises," Oursler said in a 2012 interview on the occasion of Kelley's death.
Oursler was a longtime friend of David Bowie and collaborated with him on several works. Oursler created the background videos that played at David Bowie's 50th birthday party concert in 1997. In 2000, Oursler and Bowie collaborated on the four-minute short film Empty, in which Bowie's disembodied head provided narration. Oursler made the video to accompany Bowie's January 2013 single "Where Are We Now?", and a piece showing two Bowie heads in conversation with each other for the 2013 "David Bowie Is" exhibit organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
From October-December 2010, the Lehmann Maupin Gallery hosted Oursler's exhibition entitled Peak. The exhibition was timed with Oursler's Valley, the inaugural exhibition of the Adobe Museum of Digital Media.
Jan. 13th- Mar. 5, 2011 JGM Galerie, Paris, France
July 2-17, 2011 The Influence Machine, Whitworth Art Gallery, England
Mar. 18th-Jun. 18th, 2011 Commune Milano, Italy, Milano PAC
"The Influence Machine", Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
"Norte Sul Leste Oeste", Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo, Brazil
"X ERGO Y", The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
"I/O underflow", Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands (cat.)
"Obscura", Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf, Germany
"Passe-Partout", Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, CO
Bernier Eliades, Athens, Greece
"Imponderable: the Archives of Tony Oursler", LUMA Foundation, Arles, France (cat.)
Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY
"template/variant/friend/stranger", Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom
"Influence Machine", Blinc Festival Adelaide, Pink Flats, Adelaide, Australia
The Influence Machine, George Square Gardens, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh
A*gR_3, Galería Moisés Pérez De Albéniz, Madrid
M*r>0r, Magazine III Collection
The Imponderable Archive, CCS Bard Galleries
Hans Mayer Gallery, Düsseldorf, Germany
TC: The Most Interesting Man Alive, Chrysler Museum, Virginia
PriV%te, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong
Unidentified, Redling Fine Art, Los Angeles
In 2015, Oursler published Imponderable: The Archives of Tony Oursler with the LUMA Foundation.
Oursler was profiled by the magazine Men's Vogue in 2007. Writer Dan Halpern went with him to New Zealand where he was finishing a massive projection-based installation piece on the private sculpture park of billionaire Alan Gibbs.