Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC
University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CT
Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ
Using found domestic objects such as shoes or irons as a means of mark making or as sculptural elements, Willie Cole adopts dadaist strategies of appropriation and assemblage to political representations of marginalized identities. Cole, who is also a professional illustrator, often uses multiple versions of a given item within an artwork to simultaneously highlight its materiality and alter its formal qualities. For example, Cole’s 2009 sculpture Shoe Bouquet renders a clutch of high-heeled shoes as a floral arrangement. Other works, such as his 2002 print series Five Beauties Rising, use patterns produced by steam irons as iconographic metaphors for female bodies, domestic labor, or slaving vessels. His alloyed critique of commodity fetishism and African American history is painful and deeply moving.
Cole's work has been the subject of several one-person museum exhibitions including Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, University of Wyoming Art Museum, Wyoming, the Tampa Museum of Art, Florida, Miami Art Museum, Miami, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Several of his sculptures were included in “Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents,” which opened in March 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2010, a survey exhibition of his work on paper (1975-2010) took place at the James Gallery of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and later travelled to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art at the University of Alabama and the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, NJ.