Chakaia Booker’s Vision On View At Sarasota Art Museum


Artists walk through the world seeing what others can’t. They transform those visions into objects, allowing the rest of us to see in a way we were unable before. Their visions open our eyes, our minds.

Vision explains how Chakaia Booker (b. 1953; Newark, New Jersey) looked at junk tires around New York in the 1980s and saw dramatic, explosive, jagged, suspenseful, expansive artworks.

“The East Village, where I lived then and still do, experienced regular building and car fires with trash and debris building up in the streets. I started working with found materials, eventually picking up discarded tires,” Booker told “I saw rubber tires as a new raw material to pioneer the use for abstract sculpture.”


“The tires allow for modular construction capable of scaling up to monumental public works, and have a strong socioeconomic, environmental and cultural narrative connection,” she added.

There were practical considerations as well, “the material was accessible in terms of its abundance and audience familiarity.”

Booker’s vision for turning scrap tires into fine art has taken her work into America’s finest museums, the latest, the Sarasota Art Museum in Sarasota, FL where “Chakaia Booker: Surface Pressure,” is on view through October 29, 2023.

While Booker’s art practice also includes paintings and prints, examples of which can be seen in the exhibition, the tire sculptures have become her calling card. Perhaps no contemporary artists working today is so closely and immediately identified by material as Booker is with tires. Unlike paint, marble, wood, clay, textiles–you name it–you walk into a museum and see an 8-foot section of cut up tires hanging on a wall and you know it’s Chakaia Booker.

That uniqueness, that cleverness, that signature individual material helps explain the wild popularity of Booker’s work, but the appeal goes much deeper than that.

“The tires are an entry point that almost everyone has had experience with. Tires are everywhere and are not going anywhere. Using a familiar material in a unique and unfamiliar way creates an open invitation to investigate,” Booker explains. “The abstract forms have a great deal of movement. The scale and tactility of the material also draws people to the work. I think the combination of material and form encourages curiosity, and from there each person’s own experiences add to the narrative of the work. Tires transport us, much like a work of art does.”

Booker’s use of this ordinary material makes abstract art approachable in a way in which paint or bronze can’t. Members of the general public who find abstract art inaccessible, as Booker says, have an entry point, an invitation to abstract art through a material they know well.

“Hey, that’s a tire!,” you can almost hear them saying, excited to find something of the familiar among the unfamiliar. The tires are something to hold onto, a tether for visitors who might find abstract art disorienting.

Once stabilized, guests can begin making connections between Booker’s artwork and pressing global concerns such as ecological degradation, consumer culture and the effects of mass industrialization. Booker is Black, the tires are monochromatic black, the barbaric history of rubber production in Africa is called to mind when standing in front of them.

Does the artist foresee a time when she’ll–pardon the pun–tire of using tires?

“I see rubber tires as a raw material—like wood, stone or steel—and with any raw material there are endless possibilities for new ideas to take form, for the material to influence new directions,” Booker said. “I don’t see a limit to the material other than my own imagination.”

In a delightful piece of synchronicity, Booker’s reuse of materials recalls the history of the Sarasota Art Museum itself, formerly the historic Sarasota High School.

Seven of her monumental sculptures using the formerly useless material turned priceless art through Booker’s vision, not to mention her bending, twisting and slicing, are on view in the show. The largest of which, Square Peg, can be seen outside the museum. It weighs in at a whopping 2,000-pounds and reaches more than eight feet high.

Astute guests may even see themselves in the piece. Booker sees herself in it. The title refers to the idiom “square peg in a round hole,” a reference to people or things that don’t align with common expectations.

“Any artist following their own vision and voice is an expression of that misalignment of expectations,” Booker explains. “I think most people have felt out of sync at one time or another and completing the phrase in their mind brings those experiences forward, connecting with the viewer in that moment—connecting in a way unique to each viewer. (Square Peg) applies to me just as it applies to everyone else.”

NOTE: Visitors to the Sarasota Art Museum from outside of Florida should be aware that the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state noting, and warning, that under its current governor, Ron DeSantis, Florida has “engaged in an all-out attack on Black Americans, accurate Black history, voting rights, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, and free speech, while simultaneously embracing a culture of fear, bullying, and intimidation by public officials.”

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