Jana Sterbak: States of Being

A wire mesh sculpture of a reclined chair on a wooden base. A light shines through, projecting a fence pattern on the wall. 

ana Sterbak, Seduction Couch, 1986. Perforated steel, Van de Graaff generator, electrostatic charge, stained wood, floodlamp,  48.82 x 29.13 x 91.34 in. Installation view, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1991.

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Jana Sterbak
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The exhibition Jana Sterbak: States of Being is a ten year overview of the Czech born Canadian artist’s work.

The exhibition consists of approximately fifteen sculptural works ranging in media from cast bronze and lead to such unusual materials as dressmaker’s tapes, electrical stove coils, and raw flank steak. The exhibition also includes a number of artist’s drawings and photographs.

Jana Sterbak moved to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1968 and currently resides in Montreal. Both sensational and cerebral, her work may be considered in the context of recent art that examines social and cultural conditions. Using the human body as sign and symptom of a pervasive malaise, the artist presents us with ordinary, physical objects – dresses, furniture and body parts – that attract us because they are familiar. Yet they are also repellent, because the artist has transformed and activated her sculptures in surprising ways, each work awakening specific emotions, some of them difficult to admit. Sterbak uses the physical properties of materials as analogues for psychological states, or, as she herself has observed, “the material becomes part of the idea.” One of Sterbak’s most important works is Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, a dress of raw meat in which the artist comments upon both the objectification of women and the perishable nature of the human body.


This exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Partial support for the exhibition in Cambridge has been provided by the Canadian Consulate General, Boston.