Learn More About "No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake"

A gingerbread house installation by Nayland Blake is featured at the MIT List Visual Art Center galleries.

Installation view of No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, October 16, 2020–February 14, 2021. Photo: Charles Mayer

A note on No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake from Assistant Curator Selby Nimrod

When I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in September 2019 for the premiere of Nayland Blake’s landmark survey exhibition No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake, I first marveled at the intelligent wit and deeply personal affect of Nayland’s works—many of which I hadn’t seen in person before. Then, knowing I would be working with Nayland and exhibition Curator Jamillah James to restage the exhibition at the List Center, I wondered how all these remarkable works would fit in the List Center’s galleries. In the months that followed, Nayland, Jamillah, and I worked closely to edit the exhibition checklist from over 100 objects to the 71 that comprise the List Center presentation. The difficulty of this process is a testament to the richness, complexity, and significance of Nayland’s practice. 

Employing an idiosyncratic array of materials including medical equipment, costumes, fetish gear, stuffed animals, and food, the thematic cohesion of Nayland’s works spanning three decades remains remarkable to me. Their quest to make art that revels in the complex ways we come to understand and represent ourselves, and how identities are politicized, has resulted in a truly singular practice that, as Jamillah writes, “reveals the radical potential of vulnerability in a world obsessed with power.

This September, while our galleries were closed, I worked with the List Center’s stellar team to install No Wrong Holes in our galleries—Jamillah and Nayland joining in from LA and New York on frequent video calls due to our inability to be together in person. While No Wrong Holes is currently installed at the List Center, we remain closed in an effort to help contain the spread of COVID-19. As we eagerly anticipate a time when we may re-open safely, I’m excited to share a couple of my favorite works, and highlight the release of a video interview with Nayland about the List Center presentation of their survey exhibition. 

Selby Nimrod 
Assistant Curator 

Exhibition Highlights

Installation view of Nayland Blake's gingerbread house installation is featured at the MIT List Visual Art Center galleries.

Installation view of No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, October 16, 2020–February 14, 2021
Photo: Charles Mayer

Feeder 2, 1998
Steel and gingerbread 

The scent emanating from over two hundred gingerbread “tiles” supported by a steel armature that constitute Feeder 2 is as important as the sculpture’s visual and spatial presence. Initially inviting, the gingerbread’s sweet, spiced aroma in time becomes an overwhelming, even nauseating, sensorial experience. One of Nayland’s best-known works, the 7-foot square sculpture references the children’s fairytale Hansel and Gretel, which tells the story of two children who stumble upon a seemingly magnificent cottage built of cakes and candy, but quickly learn that it is a tool of deception and a trap. 

Recently, Nayland shared another experience with me that influenced their conception of this work. As a child, they visited the holiday window displays of New York department stores with their parents and encountered an elaborate display of intricately decorated gingerbread houses constructed in varying architectural styles. See a few snapshots Nayland shared of their childhood trip (circa 1967) below.

Re-made in collaboration with a local baker each time it is exhibited, Feeder 2 coheres Nayland’s attraction to fairytale and fantasy as a mirror onto society and culture with their persistent interest in duality (the scent that is both enticing and nauseating, or the whimsical treat that is also a trap) and ruminations on their own childhood memories and personal associations.

Metal pole leaning against the white gallery wall and to the left on a white shelf hangs a pair of black rubber gloves.

Nayland Blake, Restraint Device #1 (Lede), 1988, Leather, chromed metal, chain, plastic 

Restraint Device #1 (Lede), 1988 

Restraint Device #1 (Lede) is the earliest of Nayland’s works presented at the List Center; it’s also among the first objects a visitor to the exhibition will encounter. Pictured at right in the photo above, the sculpture is comprised of a chromed metal pole with a plastic grip handle at one end and a set of leather wrist cuffs at the other, leaning casually against the wall, as if set there temporarily. An early work in a series of sculptures that outfit mid-century chairs, metal carts, and other objects with leather wrist restraints, Blake made Restraint Device #1 while living in San Francisco, where they moved after completing their MFA at CalArts. 

Participating in the vibrant LGBTQ, Leather, and Kink communities in the city’s South of Market (SoMA) district, their work at this time was influenced by their lived experience, and marked by a desire to reveal the dynamics of interpersonal relationships as a series of transactions through visual references to BDSM play. In a virtual walkthrough Nayland and I gave of the exhibition, they pointed out that they’d purchased the bondage gear included in their works of this period from businesses in SoMA, which was also the neighborhood where many of the restraint sculptures were first exhibited. Though this context shift of readymade objects would have been particularly legible to SoMA’s denizens and Kink communities, Restraint Device and many of Nayland’s works of this period offer a potent reminder that negotiations of power and control are present in all interpersonal dynamics.

Explore the Exhibition Brochure 

While nothing can replace the experience of viewing art in-person, the exhibition brochure is a great place to dive deeper into over a dozen works from inside the exhibition. 

Cover for Nayland Blake's exhibition brochure featuring two Pinocchio dolls on the left and right connected at extended noses.