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Andra Ursuta
Photograph: David WilliamsAndra Ursuta

Andra Ursuta talks about her New Museum retrospective

The New York-based sculptor and installation artist talks about her controversial work and its themes of sex and death

Written by
Paul Laster

A Romanian-born, 
New York-based artist who makes representational sculptures and installations that surrealistically refer to the body, Andra Ursuţa has been on a fast track since first showing her work in 2010. Now she makes her NYC art museum debut at the New Museum of Contemporary Art with “Alps,” an art show that includes her sculptural self-portrait, Crush, 
a disturbing depiction of a naked, flattened female suggestively covered with 
blobs of white substance. Recently, Ursuta offered her views about communism, feminism and having a darkly humorous streak.

Did growing up in communist Romania impact your work?
I don’t think so, other than the fact that most artists deal with their life experiences, 
and everything you make is political in one way or another. It’s possible to see a kind of Eastern European melancholy 
in my work, but communism 
is over. I’m not interested in making work about it or 
about Romania.

There’s a punk sensibility to your work, but do you also think of yourself as a feminist?
Not necessarily. It would be nice if we lived in a world where gender was irrelevant, but I don’t consider myself a militant fighting for women’s rights. Sometimes my work can be aggressive, and sometimes it can be sentimental, but I’m an individual making work in my own way. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but feminism doesn’t enter my thoughts when I’m making art.

I ask because the earliest piece 
in the show, Crush, is a life cast of you on the floor wearing nothing but sneakers. You look like a steamroller ran over you, and you appear to be covered in cum. If that work isn’t feminist, what is it?
It’s a very dark joke. Its inspiration comes from all of these Iron Age bodies that have been found in peat bogs throughout Northern Europe. They’re well preserved, mummified, even, but their skin has been tanned by the acid in the peat. They’ve also been flattened by the weight of the material over the centuries. Crush started by taking the word literally, as in having a crush on someone that isn’t reciprocated, so you feel crushed. If you add up all the rejections in a woman’s life, they would sort of flatten her out, perhaps. So, in the case of this woman, she isn’t flattened by peat but by the semen from all the times she’s made love.

Where does your fascination with sex and death come from?
That’s such a big question that I don’t know if I can answer it. I’m not an exhibitionist: I’m surprised by just how much sexuality plays a role in my 
work because I’m actually very shy, though I often force myself to deal with topics that make me uncomfortable. I think that’s why sex always seems prevalent in what I do.

See the exhibition

Andra Ursuta, “Alps”
  • Art
  • Contemporary art

Controversy has sometimes dogged the work of this Romanian sculptor and installation artist. Ursuta’s work often deals marginalized groups—women, minorities, refugees—and the relatively low value placed on their lives by society at large. Dark irony and a taste for the abject are hallmarks of her art.

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