Rita McBride, who lives and works in Germany and California, is an artist who explores architecture, sculpture, and design. She creates immersive sculptural installations in light and space work. Her installations almost always engage with architecture. She is best known for creating a multi-helix, hyperboloid structure able to be seen when ambient dust and water molecules encounter laser beams
She received a B.A. from Bard College in 1982 and an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in 1987. Since 2003 McBride has been a professor at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, Germany, and she has been the Director since 2013.
Influenced by artist Dan Flavin’s sculptural installations from florescent lights, McBride decided to use lasers to explore her fascination with science fiction. She says that she was always looking for “alternative stories that we can somehow build on as women.”
Her work began by exploring public spaces and culture through sculptures that recreated familiar elements from our everyday environment. She dramatized objects related to architecture using unexpected dimensions and unusual materials such as rattan, Murano glass, Carrara marble, bronze, and canvas to show contradictions between high and low culture. One of her public works was a 171-foot tall carbon structure in Munich, built for a public and private transportation hub, whose construction was recorded by stop action photography.
McBride’s “Perfiles” are sculptural installations of outlines of buildings from the past, one of which depicts the outline of houses in Pompeii, the city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Inspired by time travel, principles of light and space, and quantum physics, McBride’s sculptural installation “Particulates” is a conjunction of water molecules, surfactant compounds, and beams of high intensity lasers that materialize as they interact with particulates of mist emitted into the space. The beams of light appear to viewers as an apparition. An earlier version of “Particulates” was shown in the 2016 Liverpool Biennial.
In 2017, she showed “Particulates” in New York’s Dia Art Foundation. McBride projected 16 lasers across the 90-foot gallery in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid, the mathematical shape that a passageway through the universe might take. Its green light beams illuminated particles of marble dust and water molecules colliding in the environment.
Both of these exhibitions were in enclosed spaces with no windows. However, the focus of her current “Particulates,” now showing in Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, is a black-painted wall with a giant cylindrical cutout and a grouping of the same 16 high-intensity green lasers that shoot through it. The gallery at the Hammer has nearly floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, but they are tinted so that the lasers pop. “This is the first time I’ve been able to work with real life coming in . . . I’m working with light in a different way, daylight. It changes every time. It’s amazingly flexible and beautiful.”
McBride’s installations have been shown at Mexico City’s Museo Tamayo; San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art; The Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, Germany; and the previously mentioned Liverpool Biennial, and Did Art Foundation, among others.