Culture & Arts

Abigail DeVille's Cosmic Cacophony Heads To Harlem

Since 1968 Harlem's Studio Museum has selected three emerging artists from African or Latino descent for their artist-in-residence program. For eleven months the artists enjoy access to a 24-hour studio space, eventually producing an exhibition of their year's work at the museum itself. This year's residencies were awarded to Kevin Beasley, Bethany Collins and Abigail DeVille.

We've ogled DeVille's work in exhibitions such as the New Museum's "The Ungovernables" and "El Museo’s Bienal" at El Museo del Barrio. Her massive installations, oozing with gems of junk and discarded history, look as if an earthquake struck some sort of cosmic thrift sale. Her enchanted shantytowns harness an infinite energy, jamming it into an incredibly overcrowded space. We reached out to Ms. DeVille to learn more about her big year ahead. Scroll down for the interview.


Congratulations on your residency! What were you doing when you found out you had been selected? What was your reaction?

I actually missed the call and I knew then that I got it because I heard the voicemail. I was in total shock. Total shock.

You received a BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology. How did you make the transition from fashion to art and do you think this affects your artwork?

I went to Pratt for a year for illustration and then I was too broke to continue. I was out of school for three years,and my mom and a friend of my mom's was a dean of FIT at the time. They were pressuring me to go. That's the reason why i ended up going to FIT. ! was originally thinking about doing accessory design but I just fell in love with art and didn't want to do anything else.


And you studied painting at Yale? When did you break into installations?

Before I went to grad school I was making room-sized, three and four-wall-paintings but there was nothing happening in the round. It was basically two dimensional. They encouraged me to break out of my self-imposed restrictions of staying 2D and my second semester is when I made my first installation at school.

Do you have a vision of what you want to accomplish this next year?

I do but I'm keeping it a secret.


How do you gather your materials for your installations? They are all so perfectly scavenged.

All of the materials I use are dictated by the site of the piece; when I'm invited to a place I'll do research on the surrounding neighborhood and scavenge materials to talk about that hidden history. I am really excited to be in one place for an entire year-- exploring the accumulation buildup, thinking about the history of Harlem and really digging into that. Normally I take between two and three weeks to do a piece so this will be a big change.

What was your favorite exhibition you saw this summer?

The Encyclopedic Palace at the Venice Biennale -- it was so full, a really robust show of artists I had not heard of and had no access to. I loved the idea that a place could contain all the knowledge of the world and had all these different kinds of approaches.


Do you have any advice for young artists trying to start a career?

I don't think I have any advice. I think the only thing you can do is the best thing you can make at the moment you are making it.