Sharon Kagan



Sharon Kagan was born in 1953 in Vineland, NJ. Her parents, who were recent immigrants from Lithuania and Holocaust survivors, owned a chicken farm at the time. The family moved to Los Angeles before she was a year old.

Kagan was discouraged by her parents from being an artist, and did not take her first art class until she was already enrolled as an English major at the University of California at Los Angeles. At UCLA, she focused on interactive sculpture and earned a BA in Painting, Sculpture, and Graphic Design in 1976. After graduation she worked on The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s seminal feminist installation project.

Kagan studied at the Otis Art Institute, receiving her MFA in Sculpture in 1979. For her master’s thesis she created a video installation in a porno hotel, inspired by the ancient Sumarian ritual known as the Sacred Marriage. The piece challenged the cultural paradigm of sexuality in a video that was extremely explicit. A turning point in her work occurred in 1983 when she attended a seminar moderated by the curator Germano Celant at UCLA titled “Art as Opera”. This lead Kagan to create five performances within two years. During the 1980s, she worked in performance, video, and installation, culminating in a piece about being the child of Holocaust survivors, performed in Joshua Tree National Park in California.

The wartime experience of her parent’s as partisans, particularly the efforts of her mother who risked her life many times, has been a profound inspiration for Kagan. She notes that her mother didn’t think of herself as an artist, but says that she “inherited her amazing hand skills” that included knitting, sewing, and embroidery.

In 1986, Kagan founded the Creativity Center in Santa Monica, and until its closing in 2012 it focused on the development of the personal creative vision of both artist’s and non-artists. During the 1990s, Kagan worked trying to transform what she call “the most pivotal experience of my life” into art. In 1986, after she had been meditating, she “woke up and for three days saw the world the way that physicists and mystics have described. Everything was vibrating … it was all just energy.”

After her mother died in 2003, Kagan recounts that knitting became a way of “soothing the grief …. After the deepest part of my grief had passed, I realized that I found the way to translate that experience” of vibrational oneness from decades earlier, joined with a personal sense of rupture, continuity, and the pursuit of inner freedom. The work that resulted began with knitting hemp string and rope, then photographing it, and drawing on the enlarged image. More recent drawings and paintings on canvas have introduced color and pattern into the enlarged images, to achieve the artist’s intention: “I am working to make the eyes dance.”

Kagan’s installations have included the Love Chapel, housed for two years in a building in Los Angeles. In the 2000s she had two solo exhibitions at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, where she also participated in Sweater, a collaborative project and exhibition with Tim Hawkinson and a group of five other artists. In 2003 Kagan co-wrote Healing a Broken Heart, a self-help book, published by Simon and Schuster. She teaches at Santa Monica College.


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