150 Artists

44/150: Brian Jungen – Cultural Touchstones

Warrior 1, 2017. Nike Air Jordans, leather, 99.06 x 81.28 x 73.66 cm. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. © Brian Jungen. Photo by Jason Wyche. From the AGO

Brian Jungen (b: 1970) is an acclaimed Canadian artist who is internationally renowned for his elaborate sculptures and installations inspired by his experience of post-industrial consumerism and his own First Nations heritage. The works are made from re-purposed consumer goods  (think Nike Air Jordan trainers, above, or plastic chairs, below).

Cetology, 2002, plastic chairs, 159 x 166 x 587 in. (404 x 422 x 1491 cm). Installation view, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, 2011

The Art Gallery of Ontario opens his newest solo exhibition June 19. A graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design, he won the inaugural Sobey Art Award in 2002 and the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2010. Jungen explores a history of cultural inequality, concern for the environment and a commitment to Indigenous ways of knowing and making, the AGO says.

In 2015, Jungen made a new series of sculptures from Air Jordan trainers, which coincided with the 30-year anniversary of the product’s release (above).

The artist used the same tools utilized in initial manufacture of these sneakers, such as a band saw, punches, rivets, drills, and an industrial sewing machine, but he employed techniques drawn from the history and vocabulary of many First Nations’ visual cultures, says gallery Catriona Jeffries, which represents him.

Prototypes for New Understanding

He first came to prominence for his now famous Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005); a series of sculpture created with Nike sneakers to resemble Northwest Coast Aboriginal masks. He would later focus on sports paraphernalia – catchers mitts, baseball bats, and basket ball jerseys for his sculptures. Jungen has said it is a deliberate choice to create works out of materials produced by the sports industry; an industry that appropriates Aboriginal terminology, such as the team names The Chiefs, Indians, Redskins and Braves.

L to R: 1980, 1970, 1960 (2007) from Smithsonian Magazine https://s.si.edu/2R096x3

Born in Fort St. John, B.C. to a Swiss artist father and a Dane-Zaa mother, Jungen is best known for the deconstructed Nike works.  But he has also stacked golf bags to form totem poles and made the whale skeleton (Cetology, top of post) out of plastic chairs purchased at Canadian Tire.

From Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition site: Warrior 2, 2017. Nike Air Jordans, hide glue, deerskin, 86 x 72 x 61 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver. Collection of Nancy McCain and Bill Morneau. © Brian Jungen. Photo: SITE Photography

Brian Jungen exhibits frequently, has held solo exhibitions in New York, London and beyond, and was the first living artist to be shown at the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. in 2009. Jungen’s work has been included in recent group exhibitions at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas (2018); Liverpool Biennial (2018); Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe (2017); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2017, 2013); and the 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012).

Brian Jungen at Catriona Jeffries, which represents him, here.

At the National Gallery of Canada, here.

Art Gallery of Ontario feature, here.

Excellent archived feature in a magazine of The Smithsonian, here.


This is #44 in the series 150 Artists.


5 replies »

  1. Not only are these pieces wonderful, they are honourable.
    I’m blown away!

    In the last couple of years, the Art Gowns have been made from recycled, repurposed or unwanted dregs from bargain bins. I’m keeping them as eco-friendly as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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