BFA School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL 1998
On Stellar Rays Gallery, New York, NY
While Clifford Owens's works typically incorporate an element of performance, he rejects the label of performance artist, preferring instead to call himself a "transdisciplinary visual artist," for whom performances often comingle with photography, video, and installation. Owens's performances are never treated as self-contained works, but are documented as a means to create photographs and video. Often involving audience participation, his work forces the audience to consider the dynamics of race, gender, class, and sexuality.
For his 2011 project Anthology, made during a residency at MoMA PS1, Owens invited twenty-six African American artists spanning multiple generations—including Ben Patterson, Maren Hassinger, Lorraine O'Grady, and Glenn Ligon—to contribute scores, or performance instructions, for Owens to interpret and perform. Owens enacted these scores throughout the institution's building, a former schoolhouse, ultimately displaying the documentation in the form of an exhibition. Conceived as a corrective to the invisibility of African American artists in histories of performance art, the scores ranged from the controversial—a Kara Walker score instructed him to demand sex from an audience member—to the poetic.
In addition to Anthology, Owens was the subject of a solo show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2011), and has been included in notable group exhibitions such as Freestyle (2001) at the Studio Museum in Harlem, curated by Thelma Golden, and Performa05.