Jim Sanborn’s sculptures are informed by his scientific research and his background in archeology, sociology, and fine art. His work frequently deals with encoded information, whether hidden properties of natural materials or ciphers created by humans.
His public installations typically feature materials and messages relevant to the commissioning institution; a work for the Central Intelligence Agency, Kryptos (1990), spells out an encrypted text referencing the agency’s former director in a scroll-like copper screen. (It took US intelligence agencies some time to solve three of the four passages, but the full passage still remains unsolved.)
Paleos is an assemblage of natural materials onto which images are projected. Rough-cut limestone blocks cover the wall, framing a horizontal band depicting a fossilized seabed in which ripple marks are visible; the layered materials suggest a cross-section of the earth. Nearby, sections of a petrified tree are stacked to form a column. Benches made of rough slabs of green quartz create a viewing area around a low, white marble disc that suggests a reflection pool and serves as a projection site for microscopic slide images relating to biological research conducted in the Koch Biology Building. (Although the projected images are currently not on view, the images were periodically updated by MIT scientists.) The installation’s title evokes not only an ancient period of life, but also its analysis and contemplation.
Jim Sanborn (b. 1945) was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up with artistic and scholarly parents in Alexandria, Virginia. He studied archeology at Oxford University during a summer course while earning a BA in sociology and art history from Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia. He later earned a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, in 1971. Sanborn taught at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, and was a teacher and artist-in-residence at Glen Echo Park, Maryland.
Solo exhibitions of Sanborn’s work have been mounted at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; American University Museum, Washington, D.C.; Artists Space, New York; and Orlando Museum of Art, Florida. He has participated in group exhibitions at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Neuberger Museum, Purchase, New York; Gwangju Biennale, Korea; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. Sanborn lives and works in Washington, D.C.