Through Summer 2020

Karyn Olivier: Everything That’s Alive Moves

Karyn Olivier, Moving the Obelisk, 2019–2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Everything That’s Alive Moves offers the rare opportunity to examine the recent trajectories of Karyn Olivier’s investigation into scale, public memory, and their relation to issues of inclusivity and acceptance. The exhibition builds on several public projects and commissions created by the artist in recent years and continues to revise, rework, and expand on key works.

Works in this exhibition bring together two themes the artist has focused on in recent years: larger-than-life scale and the minute, modest gesture. A new obelisk sculpture, a fully-functioning carousel for one rider, a large car made entirely of repurposed shoes —gathered for export to poor countries—and a brick wall built using discarded clothing as mortar, evoking memories of laundry and bundled lives carries overtones of refugee structures and traces of bodies, are among the works selected to be reimagined and constructed on-site at ICA.

Karyn Olivier: Everything That’s Alive Moves is organized by Anthony Elms, ICA Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated monograph that will be released in 2020.

About the Artist

Karyn Olivier (b. 1968, Trinidad and Tobago) received her M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art and her B.A at Dartmouth College. She has exhibited at the Gwangju and Busan Biennials, World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (Dakar, Senegal), The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Whitney Museum of Art, MoMA P.S.1, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, The Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh), SculptureCenter (NY), Drexel University, the University of the Arts, Ulrich Museum of Art, University of Delaware Museum, among others.

In 2017 Olivier installed a large-scale commissioned work for Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program in historic Vernon Park. In 2015 Olivier created public works for Creative Time in Central Park and NYC’s Percent for Art program. She has received the 2018–19 Rome Prize and has been the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, the William H. Johnson Prize, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award, a Creative Capital Foundation grant and a Harpo Foundation Grant. More recently, Olivier has been selected to create a new Dinah memorial at Stenton, following a year-long process in which community members met to shape ideas of what a monument to Dinah should incorporate. Olivier’s work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Art in America, Flash Art, Mousse, The Washington Post, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Frieze, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hyperallergic, among others. Olivier is currently an associate professor of sculpture at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.


Support for Karyn Olivier: Everything That’s Alive Moves has been provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Edna Wright Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation, and by a Tyler Dean’s Grant from Temple University. Additional support has been provided by Nancy & Leonard Amoroso, Danielle Mandelbaum Anderman, Cecile & Christopher D’Amelio, Cheri & Steven Friedman, Christina Weiss Lurie, Josephine Magliocco, Lori & John Reinsberg, Patricia & Howard Silverstein, and by Stephanie & David Simon.

Installation Views
Featured Artworks

Moving Forward: A Conversation with Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr., and Mike Africa Jr.

The history of MOVE is uniquely intertwined with calls for justice in the wake of countless deaths by the hands of law enforcement and the continued subjugation of black citizens. MOVE, a black liberation group founded by John Africa in 1972, has long been a target of city officials. Their contentious encounters with Philadelphia police culminated with the bombing of their homes on the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia on May 13, 1985. In 1978 nine members of the organization were incarcerated for allegedly killing a police officer during an altercation initiated by the police. Debbie and Mike Africa, two members of the MOVE 9, were released from prison in 2018. ICA Philadelphia was honored to have them in dialogue with their son Mike Africa Jr. who continues the fight for equality for black people.

This event was held on July 1, 2020.

Moving the Obelisk

Begun at the artist’s studio at the American Academy in Rome and finished in the ICA’s first-floor gallery, Moving the Obelisk restages historical patterns. Traditionally, an obelisk is a four-sided tapered monolith originating in Egypt. Beginning 30 BC, the Romans regularly ransacked Egyptian temples, looting obelisks in particular. These were presented as territorial gifts to such a degree that today there are more than twice as many obelisks outside of Egypt as left within.

Moving the Obelisk somewhat absurdly restages this trajectory of displacement and theft. Olivier and a crew dismantled not a stone monolith but a dirt-and-cardboard reimagining of an obelisk made in her Rome studio. They packed the components and documented their transit and restaging here in Philadelphia. In this gesture, Olivier diminishes the awe and stature accorded to a solid mass of stone to focus on the actions that surround the history of the form: conquering, dismantling, transporting, reassembling. Through such displacements, Olivier’s sculptures remind us (as might a casual walk in Rome) that civic space accrues through the weight of peoples, and that citizenship is built of absences — if we pause to look again.

In Conversation: Karyn Olivier & Anthony Elms

In conjunction with Everything That’s Alive Moves, artist Karyn Olivier joined ICA Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator Anthony Elms in a live conversation and Q & A session over Zoom on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

Until That Morning Comes by Harmony Holiday

In conjunction with Karyn Olivier: Everything That’s Alive Moves, poet, writer, and dancer Harmony Holiday presents Until That Morning Comes, a film and suite of poems and writings that draw from the legacy and contemporary reverberations of the MOVE Bombing in West Philadelphia. Through her work, Holiday creates an ode to joy—to Black laughter and smiling and spiraling, exploring gestures that counter decimating, oppressive acts and recover tenderness from ruin.

Harmony Holiday

Harmony Holiday is a writer, dancer and the author of five collections of poetry, including the forthcoming Maafa (April 2020). Holiday is an archivist of jazz poetics and has a related curatorial practice. She is at work on a play commissioned by the Hammer Museum for Made in L.A. 2020: a version, in addition to other writing, film, and curatorial projects.

View liner notes for Until That Morning Comes by Harmony Holiday.

Wed, May 20, 2020, 6:30PM–8PM
In Conversation: Karyn Olivier and Anthony Elms
Books & Editions
Karyn Olivier: <em>Everything That's Alive Moves</em> book cover

Order your copy today from!

This publication documents the first solo museum exhibition of sculptor Karyn Olivier. Everything That’s Alive Moves focused on recent trajectories of Olivier’s investigation into scale and public memory, particularly as they are activated for monuments and memorials. After several years developing a number of public commissions, and a year’s study in Rome, Olivier revisited a handful of recent works alongside her first forays into video and sound to consider the conflicted histories and unresolved spaces monuments too often shadow. Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, the exhibition traveled to the University at Buffalo Art Galleries. Exhibition images from both ICA and the UB Art Galleries installations are accompanied by the full narrative text for Oliver’s fisrt video; an overview essay from ICA Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator Anthony Elms; UB Art Galleries curator Liz Park’s in-depth consideration of Moving the Obelisk; and a critical assessment of Olivier’s methods by art historian Andrianna Campbell-LaFleur.

7.25 x 9.25 inches
ISBN 978-0-88454-153-0
Publication Date
Edited by Anthony Elms. Foreword by John McInerney. Texts by Andrianna Campbell-LaFleur, Anthony Elms, Karyn Olivier, and Liz Park
Sonia Yoon
Edited by Anthony Elms. Foreword by John McInerney. Texts by Andrianna Campbell-LaFleur, Anthony Elms, Karyn Olivier, and Liz Park
Programming at ICA has been made possible in part by the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Fund to Support Contemporary Culture and Visual Arts and the Lise Spiegel Wilks and Jeffrey Wilks Family Foundation, and by Hilarie L. & Mitchell Morgan.