Willie Cole is best known for assembling and transforming ordinary domestic and used objects such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes, hair dryers, bicycle parts, wooden matches, lawn jockeys, and other discarded appliances and hardware, into imaginative and powerful works of art and installations.
Through the repetitive use of single objects in multiples, Cole's assembled sculptures acquire a transcending and renewed metaphorical meaning, or become a critique of our consumer culture. Cole's work is generally discussed in the context of postmodern eclecticism, combining references and appropriation ranging from African and African American imagery, to Dada's readymades and Surrealism's transformed objects, and icons of American pop culture or African and Asian masks, into highly original and witty assemblages. Some of Cole's interactive installations also draw on simple game board structures that include the element of chance while physically engaging the viewer.
Cole's widely recurring symbolic and artistic object that was initially brought to the attention of the art world in the mid-1980s has been the steam iron. While Cole's unique approach of imprinting the steam iron's marks on a variety of media result in a wide-ranging decorative potential of his scorchings, these scorches are also to be viewed as a reference to Cole's African American heritage.
Willie Cole grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1976, and continued his studies at the Art Students League of New York from 1976-79.
He's the recipient of many awards, including the 2006 Winner of the David C. Driskell Prize, the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history, established by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Willie Cole's work is found in numerous private and public collections and museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York; the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama; the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, and the New York Public Library in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, Maryland; the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas; the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven and the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut; the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College in Massachusetts; the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Allen Art Museum at Oberlin College, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Columbus Museum in Ohio; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia; the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, South Carolina; the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan; the Montclair Art Museum, the Newark Museum of Art, and the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton in New Jersey; the Orlando Museum of Art in Orlando, and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in Florida; the Saint Louis Art Museum in Saint Louis, Missouri; the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University in Palo Alto, the University Art Museum at the University of California at Santa Barbara in California, and The College of New Jersey among others.
SELECTED AWARDS & RESIDENCIES
2006 David C. Driskell Prize, High Museum of Art, Atlanta
2002 The Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial Fellowship
2000 Artist-in-residence, John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts/Industry
Program, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
1996 Joan Mitchell Foundation Award
1995 The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant
1991 The Penny McCall Foundation Grant