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Who and what limits our freedom of expression? In what ways do cultural differences affect our understanding of art and other forms of communication? How do an artist’s process and choice of medium affect our perception of his or her work?

This episode features artists who synthesize disparate aesthetic traditions, present taboo subject matter, discover innovative uses of media, and explore the shape-shifting potential of the human figure.

More information and credits


Series Created By: Susan Dowling & Susan Sollins. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve Moros Ortega. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Director of Production: Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Ian Forster. Consulting Director: Catherine Tatge. Editor: Mark Sutton. Director of Photography: Jarred Alterman, Sunil Pillai, Ian Serfontein, Joel Shapiro, & Yasushi Kishimoto. Additional Photography: Martial Barrault, Dado Carlin, Craig Feldman, Nicholas Lindner, Jared Schiller, & Zachary Spira-Bauer. Sound: Patrick Christensen, Nicholas Lindner, Mark Mandler, Gissy Michael, Roger Phenix, Laurent Rodriguez, & Merce Williams. Assistant Camera: Christopher Aran, Amy Bench, Jeymes Cabala, Nick Esposito, John Marton, Clair Popkin, Michael Pruitt-Bruun, & Yahia Zadek. Field Producer: Charles Atlas & Mariana Valdrighi Amaral. Production Assistant: Logan Needle. Voiceover Artist: Karen Huie. Assistant Editor: Crystal De Boulet, Dahlia Fischbein, Morgan Riles, Bahron Thomas, & Alex Zustra. Tabaimo Translation: Hitomi Iwasaki, Justin Jesty, Keiko Koshihara, Manami Beer, Manami Fujimori, Ashley Rawlings, & Reiko Tomii.

Art Direction and Design: Open, New York. Online Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voiceover Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editor: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious. Sound Assistant: Steve Giammaria. Artwork Animation: Frank Ferrigno. Graphics Animation: Urosh Perishic.

Artworks Courtesy of: David Altmejd; assume vivid astro focus; Tabaimo; © Lynda Benglis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; © 2011 Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York; Cheim & Read, New York; & James Cohan Gallery, New York. Archival Footage & Photography Courtesy of: Lynda Benglis, Photograph by Hans Namuth; © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate; Rick Castro; Steph Goralnick; Patrick Hersant; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Kristy Leibowitz; Kat Mareck; Kleber Matheus; Tom Powel; Anand Sarabhai; Dermot Smyth; Ufer! Art Documentary; Video Data Bank; & Josh White. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman & Sue Mackiewicz.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees; 601ArtSpace; Rénald Bellemare; Lindsay Bosch; Marcy Brafman; Asha Burchett; Pat Casteel; April Childers; Ralph Cuccurullo; Deborah Diemente; Keith Eland; Rodrigo Garcia Dutra; Teneille Haggard; Maria Jose Duran; Imoimo; Katie Kraft; Susan Krane; Samara Levenstein; Jessica Lin Cox; Sabrina Locks; Sheila Lynch; Museum of Art RISD, Providence; New Museum, New York; Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London; Jim Powell; Ellen Robinson; Salon 94 Freemans, New York; Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad; Keith Shapiro; Erin Sickler; SP-Arte, São Paulo; Bec Stupak; Judith Tannenbaum; Amit Vachharajani; Venice Biennale; & Steve Wylie.

Curatorial Advisory Council: Rachel Blackburn Cozad, Kris Douglas, Gary Garrels, Karen Higa, Margo Machida, Marti Mayo, Jill Medvedow, Anne Pasternack, John Ravenal, Paul Schimmel, Katy Siegel, & Judith Tannenbaum.

Additional Art21 Staff: Daniel Barrett, Carrie Caroselli, KC Forcier, Joe Fusaro, Jessica Hamlin, Claudine Isé, Marc Mayer, Jonathan Munar, Heather Reyes, Kelly Shindler, Sara Simonson, & Diane Vivona.

Interns: Alex Abelson, Paulina V. Ahlstrom, Don Edler, Lucy Healy-Kelly, Clara Jo, David Levine, Maren Miller, Molly Nathan, Tayo Ogunbiyi, & Persis Singh. Bookkeeper: Valerie Riley.

Public Relations: DKC Public Relations. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Season 6 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, Agnes Gund, Bloomberg, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Broad Art Foundation, The Japan Foundation, Toby Devan Lewis.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

assume vivid astro focus

The collective assume vivid astro focus (avaf) was formed in New York City in 2001 by principal members are Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide-Pierson. Avaf fuses drawing, sculpture, video, and performance into carnavalesque installations in which gender, politics, and cultural codes float freely. A study in visual adaptation and modification, avaf’s work recycles and transforms imagery from one project to the next—often in the form of densely patterned wallpapers and graphic signage.

David Altmejd

With an almost childlike fascination for objects that grow, transform, and reshape themselves, David Altmejd creates sculptures, suffused with ornament, that blur distinctions between interior and exterior, surface and structure, representation and abstraction. Meaning, for Altmejd, does not exist in advance of the work in process. His interest lies in the making—the building of an object that will generate meaning. Using armatures in the forms of giants and angels that convey both human and supernatural energies, he abandons standard narrative conventions in favor of an exploration of materials, processes, and structures.

Lynda Benglis

A pioneer of a form of abstraction in which each work is the result of materials in action—poured latex and foam, cinched metal, dripped wax—Lynda Benglis has created sculptures that eschew minimalist reserve in favor of bold colors, sensual lines, and lyrical references to the human body. But her invention of new forms with unorthodox techniques also displays a reverence for cultural references that trace back to antiquity. Often working in series of knots, fans, lumps, and fountains, Benglis chooses unexpected materials, such as glitter, gold leaf, lead, and polyurethane. In more recent works, she explores diverse cultural heritages (Indian architecture, Greek statuary, Chinese ceramics), translating ancient techniques and symbols for use in contemporary contexts. In her early adoption of video, Benglis introduced feminist, biographical, and burlesque content to structuralist narratives.


Tabaimo’s drawings and video installations probe the unsettling themes of isolation, contagion, and instability that seem to lurk beneath daily existence in contemporary Japan. She draws aesthetic inspiration for her animated videos from a combination of Japanese art forms, while she often sets her layered, surrealistic narratives in domestic interiors and communal spaces. Tabaimo populates her work with uncanny characters that, either through mutation or as victims of inexplicable violence, become fragmented in their relationships to the environment and their own identity. Installed in theatrical, stage-like settings, her work is attuned to the architecture and the viewers within it.