Sanford Biggers Takes Over Rockefeller Center this Spring




Sanford Biggers: Oracle at Rock Center! Image courtesy Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is kicking-off Spring with a new exhibition by Sanford Biggers. The featured sculpture, Oracle, is a 25-foo-tall cast bronze that serves as the centerpiece of Biggers’ epic art installation at the entrance to the Channel Gardens. In addition, throughout the Rockefeller Center Campus, visitors will find a varied body of work which is part of Biggers’ 2021 Art in Focus series, produced in partnership with Art Production Fund and kicked off by Hiba Schahbaz earlier this year.

The Oracle is the largest yet in Biggers’ ongoing Chimera series, which consists of hybrid sculptures that merge mythology and history. Each is a mashup of masks and figurative sculptures that from different countries and cultures, including Greco-Romann and African sculptures.

“What we think we know about these objects and how they represent certain cultures is not always true,” Biggers says. What he refers to as “historical abstraction” is a recurring theme in his work. “Stories and narratives have been built over centuries upon those objects.” The imposing figure of Oracle, in particular, combines elements of an ancient depiction of Zeus with an “Africoid mask-bust figure” that’s a composite of several masks and busts from different African cultures, Biggers says.

Concepts and imagery that have been part of the ongoing visual and conceptual narrative of the artist’s work for years constellate across the Rockefeller Center campus. A work titled Seigaiha (meaning “big blue wave” in Japanese) features flags that ring the Rink. Each flag is emblazoned with a graphic wave design, reminiscent of the ’70s album art of Biggers’ youth, that animates in the wind. Vitrines hold three small versions of his Chimera sculptures with photo backgrounds made from stills from his video series “Shuffle, Shake, Shatter,” filmed over 10 years in Brazil and Ethiopia. A 125-foot-long mural fills a subterranean passageway with a cloudscape and the repeating words: “Just Us.” Several more murals are scattered throughout the complex; details on them are incorporated into the Oracle sculpture.

Image courtesy Rockefeller Center

“This spring is extra special for all of us—it’s a comeback and an awakening, it’s hopeful and optimistic, and celebrating it with Sanford Biggers’ art makes it all the more meaningful,” says EB Kelly, Tishman Speyer managing director overseeing Rockefeller Center. “As a New Yorker, Sanford was the perfect choice for our first campus-wide takeover by a solo artist.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1970, Biggers came of age while hip-hop culture was taking shape. “I was a first generation b-boy,” he said in a 2020 interview with Modern Art Notes podcast. He practiced all the hip-hop art forms: rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti—influences that still echo through his work today. Biggers grew up in a home that valued arts and culture and the full breadth of history. (There’s also another notable artist in the Biggers family tree: muralist John T. Biggers, Sanford’s cousin.) Sanford Biggers’ mother was a teacher and his father was one of the first Black neurosurgeons in California, and they gave Biggers what he has described as a “dual education”—the one he got at school and the one his parents provided, filling in the gaps in Black history and culture that the school’s curriculum left out.

Sanford Biggers images courtesy Rockefeller Center

For Biggers, having the Rockefeller Center installation come to fruition after years in development is an achievement. “Being a New Yorker and doing anything at Rockefeller Center is huge. It’s just so steeped in history and it’s a truly New York experience. I feel very honored to be part of that tradition and to be able to interact with my city in this way,” he says. “The whole complex itself has such historical and cultural significance for New York, and […] such a rich visual history. I’m extremely excited about putting in more myth and references and playing with some of that history within the content of the installation itself.”

Image courtesy Rockefeller Center

The spring timing of the show’s opening feels serendipitous to Biggers. “People are reemerging from a very, very, very long hibernation,” he notes. And art awaits. The installation is an invitation to get outside the homes where we’ve been cooped up, get fresh air, see art in person, explore. And, the closer you look into the layers and references and objects on display, the more you might discover. “It will reward the person who does the extra work, for sure,” Biggers says.

Sanford Biggers’ campus-wide exhibition is on view throughout Rockefeller Center through June 29. The Art in Focus installation, part of the larger exhibition, continues a series of art exhibitions produced in partnership with Art Production Fund.

Sonic Tonic and Moon Medicine from the Oracle. A playlist curated by Sanford Biggers right here.

Take a look-back at Sanford Biggers at The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

While you’re there, step into Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza to view Knotted Ties, an exhibit of artists who use textiles in their practice.