In richly detailed sculptures and multipart installations, Rachel Feinstein (b. 1971, Fort Defiance, Ariz.) investigates and challenges the concept of luxury as expressed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe, in the context of contemporary parallels. By synthesizing visual and societal opposites such as romance and pornography, elegance and kitsch, the marvelous and the banal, she explores issues of taste and desire.
Feinstein received a B.A. in 1993 from Columbia University, New York, where she studied religion, philosophy, and studio art. That same year she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Feinstein found her passion for sculpture under the influence of mentors such as Kiki Smith, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Judy Pfaff. In 1994 her work was included in several group shows in New York, including Let the Artist Live! at Exit Art, where she presented a large gingerbread house modeled after Sleeping Beauty’s castle in which she slept throughout the exhibition. As the artist explains, “I’ve always been interested in portraying some kind of fantasy, then showing that it’s completely constructed. There are always dark messages hidden behind beauty, and the act of sculpting is about listening to that inner voice that warns you about something lurking beneath the surface.”
Feinstein’s work was included in the first iteration of MoMA PS1’s Greater New York in 2000. She had her first solo exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, the following year, showing large plaster and wood sculptures of lions, swans, angels, and waterfalls, and transforming one of the galleries into an all-white Rococo-style salon inspired by imperial palaces in Munich and Vienna. The construction of fantastical, multidimensional environments is integral to Feinstein’s practice. Preferring to see her work in complex interiors, she often brings Baroque elements into exhibition spaces, complicating the relationship between sculpture and painting, positive and negative space. Viewed from certain angles, the sculptures flatten, while the walls seem to expand through the artist’s use of mirrors and wallpaper.
In the early 2000s, Feinstein began to explore spatial landscapes, influenced by panoramas from the 1800s. Using found images, she created hybrid arcadian landscapes printed on mirrored wallpaper. The first of these wallpapers, Panorama of Rome (2012), was installed in the elliptical gallery at Gagosian in Rome, offering visitors an impressionistic view of the city around them. In 2010–11 Feinstein transformed the modernist interior of the Lever House, New York, into a snowy wonderland, rife with stylized elements of Rococo and Gothic design. Interpreting Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, she created a gilded carriage, groups of toy soldiers, arched alcoves containing characters from the story, and sublime architectural ruins painted onto floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Three years later her sculpture Folly (2014) was installed in New York’s Madison Square Park, marking Feinstein’s first public art exhibition in the U.S.
In 2018 Feinstein produced the Secrets series, featuring eight large-scale sculptures that reimagine the Victoria’s Secret “Angels,” as well as ceramic sculptures inspired by Franz Anton Bustelli’s Rococo commedia dell’arte figurines. As in much of her work, the theatrical and the intricate verge on the grotesque, becoming strangely erotic abstractions and suggesting the body through its absence.