The Morgan Library & Museum Presents ‘Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan’




Jan van de Velde (1593 – 1641), The sorceress [Netherlands?: s.n.], 1626, engraving in Joseph Ames (compiler; English, 1689–1759), Emblematic and Satirical Prints on Persons and Professions. The Morgan Library & Museum, PML 145850.40. Photography by Janny Chiu.

The Morgan Library & Museum is pleased to present Uncommon Denominator, a sequence-based exhibition in which interdisciplinary artist Nina Katchadourian combines pieces from the Morgan’s collection with her own artworks and objects of familial significance. Opening February 10th and on view through May 28th, 2023, it is the third in an ongoing series of exhibitions the Morgan’s Photography Department has created in collaboration with a living artist.

Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968), Weekly calendar annotated with pens and stickers, 1982. Courtesy of Nina Katchadourian. © Nina Katchadourian, 2023.

Katchadourian began working on the exhibition in 2020 with Joel Smith, the Richard L. Menschel Curator and Department Head of Photography at the Morgan. As a way of discovering the collection via those who know it intimately, she arranged “show-and-tells” with members of fifteen departments that closely engage with the collections. Over a period of five months, Katchadourian invited each staff member to participate in one-on-one, hour-long discussions about a collection object of special relevance to them. Some of these staff selections are included in the exhibition, adding to the chemistry that the artist’s “uncommon denominators” explore.

The exhibition is sequenced so that a diverse range of objects variously amplify, contradict, or comment upon one another. Katchadourian treated the Morgan as a living resource and applied an expansive definition of its “collections”. While passing through a hallway in the conservation department, for example, the artist came across a case of retired leather-working tools that struck her as “an encoded alphabet” or “pre-historic emoticons”. Relocated to the exhibition, they are situated adjacent to Jessica Wynne’s near-life-size photograph of a Columbia University mathematician’s chalkboard. The scholar’s linear diagrams are in turn echoed by motifs in an embroidery sampler made by Lucy Katchadourian, the artist’s “third, bonus grandmother,” during her early years in an orphanage for Armenian genocide survivors.

Ashford Brothers & Co., The Great Sensation Card: One Thousand Portraits of Living & Historical Celebrities, c. 1865. The Morgan Library & Museum, 2019. 62. Photography by Jenny Chiu.

Uncommon Denominator features the newest installment in Katchadourian’s ongoing “Sorted Books” project, which she began in 1993. To create the twenty-four photographs in the new series, titled Look Who’s Talking, the artist pulled volumes from the Morgan’s Carter Burden Collection of American Literature ~ the largest library collection she has worked with as part of the project ~ and arranged their spines into statements, poems, commentary, and narratives. Featuring titles such as Battle of the Angels by Tennessee Williams and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, these clusters at once reflect the breadth of the collection and exemplify Katchadourian’s instinct for creative recombination. sometimes three books titles form a terse phrase; other clusters use as many as ten stacked books to tell a story.

Beginning and ending with the artist’s longstanding absorption with geography and mapmaking, Uncommon Denominator introduces viewers to recurring motifs that reward careful attention. Among the loose themes that bridge the interests of the artist, and the holdings of the Morgan are record-keeping, repairs, swarms, plants, skeletons, abstract and literal depictions of the body, handshakes, and animals.

Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968), Prince Charming, 2015, from the project Seat Assignment, 2010 and ongoing. The Morgan Library & Museum, 2019. 142 © Nina Katchadourian

Among highlights of Katchadourian’s work are Prince Charming, 2015, Giant Redwood, 2012, and Topiary, 2012, digital chromogenic prints from her ongoing project “Seat Assignment,” which began in 2010. The photographs, videos, and sound works in the series were all made on commercial airline flights using only a smartphone, and exemplify the artist’s deft approach to improvising with found materials in settings that seem unlikely for art-making.

“One of the operative questions for me throughout this project has been ‘What IS in the Morgan’s collection?” said Katchadourian. “I was surprised, time and time again, at what I found. Part of my goal has been to shed light on these discoveries, as well as bringing the viewer along on some of the ‘behind the scenes’ moments I was fortunate to have access to.”

Noteworthy objects from the Morgan’s collection include a delicate figure drawing by Antoine Watteau, a Mesopotamian cylinder seal from 3400-3000 BC, the diary of teenage J.P. Morgan, and an intricate ink drawing of a crowd made by a Netherlandish follower of Hieronymus Bosch ca. 1510-1540.

Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968), Giant Redwood, 2012, from the project Seat Assignment, 2010 and ongoing. The Morgan Library & Museum, 2019.140. © Nina Katchadourian.

Director, Colin B. Bailey, commented, “As friends of the Morgan know, the institution is lively, active, and in constant growth. It has been a special pleasure to see Nina Katchadourian engage the energy and the expertise of staff members in her immersion in the collection. Newcomers and longtime visitors alike will find much to delight and surprise them in the fruits of this collaboration.”

“The challenge, and the reward, of working with Nina Katchadourian was that she takes an interest in everything, and wants to connect everything,” said curator Joel Smith. “Even when we agreed that we’d found something too great to leave out of the mix, our work had only begun; the real personality of the show lies in the way these wonderful things are put into play with each other.”

Katchadourian’s commentary appears throughout the gallery and the exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue featuring a conversation between the artist and curator. Following its opening, a series of public programs will offer viewers the opportunity to engage with the artist’s imaginative logic An audioguide narrated by the artist is provided via the Bloomberg Connects mobile app.

Powell & Co., Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment Picture (draft) 1865. The Morgan Library & Museum, 2019.66. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan will be on view from February 10 – May 28, 2023 at The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, NYC.

Public Programs include Person Place Thing with Randy Cohen and guest Nina Katchadourian on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, 6:30 PM

Person Place Thing is an interview show based on the idea that people are particularly engaging when they speak not directly about themselves but about something they care about. Interdisciplinary artist Nina Katchadourian’s work includes video, performance, sound, sculpture, photography, and public projects. The program will feature live music by Brian Dewan and is being recorded for later broadcast on Northeast Public Radio.

The exhibition Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan will be open at 5:30PM for program attendees. The event will take place in J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library. Tickets: $20/$15 for Members; Seating is limited.

Teen Tour and Workshop on Thursday, February 16, 2023, 4:30–6 PM

Join artist Nina Katchadourian for an exclusive tour of her exhibition, followed by a workshop led by the artist. Participants will discover new ways of working with ordinary objects and then experiment in line with Katchadourian’s own methods to make their own original works.
No experience required and all art materials will be included.

Participants are encouraged to bring a cell phone or digital camera for the workshop. Morgan ipads will be available for any participant without a camera.

This program is intended only for teens aged 13 to 18 years and their caregivers. Related Program: Teen Writing Contest at the Morgan Library & Museum Tickets: Free; limited availability, advance registration is required.

Al Taylor (1948 – 1999), Pet Names. The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Debbie Taylor, 2020.39. © The Estate of Al Taylor. Photography by Glenn Steigelman.

“Variety Show” with Nina Katchadourian and Friends on Sunday, February 26, 2023, 4 PM

In conjunction with the exhibition Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan, artists, writers, and musicians will respond to works in the exhibition through short performances. Katchadourian’s creative partners are James Hannaham (writer, performer, and visual artist), Maria Popova (writer and critic), Julian Lucas (writer and critic), and musicians Mamie Minch, Hannah Marcus, and Terre Roche.

Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan and other exhibitions will be open prior to the program for attendees.

The event will take place in the Morgan’s Gilder Lehrman Hall. By entering the museum, you agree to our updated Visitor Guidelines and Policies. Masks are required for attending all public programs.

Tickets: $25; $20 for Morgan Members; Free for students with a valid school ID.

Organization and Sponsorship:

Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan is made possible by the Charles E. Pierce Jr. Fund for Exhibitions, Richard and Ronay Menschel, the Alturas Foundation, and the Sakana Foundation. Support is provided by Wanda Kownacki, Emily MF Korteweg, Nicole Avril and Dan Gelfland, and Corina Larkin and Nigel Dawn, with assistance from Martin Z. Margulies, Megan and Paul Segre, and Larry Kauvar.

Justine Kurland, Portraits (Additive Space), 2021,
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on The Charina
Endowment Fund, 2021.125:1. © Justine Kurland

About the Artist ~ Nina Katchadourian (born 1968) is an interdisciplinary artist whose work includes video, performance, sound, sculpture, photography, and public projects. She grew up in California and spent summers on Pörtö, a small island group in southern Finland. Her mother comes from Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority and grew up in Helsinki; her Armenian father was raised in Beirut.

Katchadourian often arranges encounters—with nature, everyday life, or systems of knowledge—that induce what she calls “useful and revealing disorientation.” She wields humor as a strategy and conducts research through committed, serious forms of play.

Her video Accent Elimination was included at the 2015 Venice Biennial in the Armenian pavilion, which won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. Group exhibitions have included shows at the Serpentine Gallery, Turner Contemporary, de Appel, Palais de Tokyo, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Turku Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, ICA Philadelphia, Brooklyn Museum, Artists Space, SculptureCenter, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library, and MoMA PS1. A solo museum survey of her work entitled Curiouser opened at the Blanton Museum in 2017 and traveled to the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University and the BYU Museum of Art. An accompanying monograph, also entitled Curiouser, is available from Tower Books.

Katchadourian completed a commission entitled Floater Theater for the Exploratorium in San Francisco in 2016 which is now permanently on view. In 2016 Katchadourian created Dust Gathering, an audio tour on the subject of dust, for the Museum of Modern Art as part of their program “Artists Experiment”. Katchadourian’s work is in public and private collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Blanton Museum of Art, Morgan Library, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Margulies Collection, and Saatchi Gallery. She has won grants and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation, the Tiffany Foundation, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, Grönqvistska Foundation, and the Nancy Graves Foundation. Katchadourian lives and works in Brooklyn and Berlin and she is a Clinical Professor on the faculty of NYU Gallatin. She is represented by Catharine Clark Gallery and Pace Gallery.

About The Morgan Library & Museum ~ A museum and independent research library located in the heart of New York City, the Morgan Library & Museum began as the personal library of financier, collector, and cultural benefactor Pierpont Morgan. The Morgan offers visitors close encounters with great works of human accomplishment in a setting treasured for its intimate scale and historic significance. Its collection of manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings, and works of art comprises a unique and dynamic record of civilization, as well as an incomparable repository of ideas and of the creative process from 4000 BC to the present.

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