McClain Gallery presents Karin Broker’s seventh solo exhibition with the gallery: my circus. Broker’s sculptures range from wired figures repurposed from ceramic body parts or cast metal figures to delicate nests wired with the detritus of well used and forgotten lives. Alongside the exhibition are a selection of Broker’s collections and oddities gathered and created over her long art career.
Since 2014, Karin Broker has been responding with ire to Western Society’s expectations levied against the female gender through her work. For my circus, she has created an army of performers whose bodies have morphed to turn their baggage into weapons or shields, so they might be ready to resist a system built to control them. Broker’s aim is to make powerful, beautiful objects that champion optimism and strength.
“My eleventh-month older brother Jeff always blurts out “Not my monkey not my circus” when I try to speak about a thorny family issue. The exhibition My Circus is me embracing all the thorny girl stuff. Family violence, sexual abuse, birth conundrums, and apathy dance in the center ring of my own gender circus."
-Excerpt from girls, Karin Broker
The accompanying artist book titled girls animates her sculptures as characters in conversation with the reader. These girls tell of their laments, their struggles, and their hopes that history doesn’t have to repeat itself. Through these new works and their musings found in the book, Broker weaves accounts of resilience and a drive toward defiance.
Broker is a maker of things as well as a draftsman, a master printer, a sculptor, and a collector of objects. If you find yourself at her studio, she’ll tell you the stories by which she became their proprietor: about the lady who sold her a hoard of antique love letters from her father to her mother in World War II, vintage pill bottles, or optometrist lenses; or the treks involved with the acquisition of this or that cloche. The raw materials for her sculpture are laden with human connection and their own historical and emotional weight.
Around the back of the gallery, you’ll find an array of objects Broker has made, gathered, and kept in her home. Some are artworks outright, like her drawing from the 1970s, wherein the artist depicts herself ready to have the bullseye spun as negative darts are thrown in her direction, her lips parted in something like fear. Also included in this room of curiosities are artworks insofar as they can’t be called anything else: two needlepoint deconstructions where Broker removed threads from found embroideries to remake the pieces into a personal search and cry for her lost sister; Seeing Through His Eyes, a perfect wall-mounted receptacle into which Broker has placed each of her husband’s used contact lenses since 1994; Thank you Barbie, a vintage doll who served as a door stop to the “Print Palace” at Rice University for 28 years. At first this collection seems more personal than her artwork, but Broker sees little difference in saving the bits and bobs of her own days – they all tap into the quiet and quirkiness of things that one typically discards. As she puts it, “by herding these objects into different scenarios they gain humor and, in a way, a sense of lost time. They all have stories; they all have pasts. They serve as reminders that small moments are important and they add up.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Karin Broker (b. 1950, Penn, Pennsylvania) received a BFA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She studied printmaking under Stanley W. Hayter at the Atelier 17 in Paris. She was professor of printmaking and drawing at Rice University from 1980–2021. In 1994, Broker was the Texas Artist of the Year and was awarded two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her artwork is in public collections nationwide including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; New York Public Library, New York, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; and many others.