Ander Mikalson

I create objects and drawings that invite human connection through their use, instruction and affordances. I use the language of scores, contracts, stage direction and diagrams to bend drawing towards the purpose of ritual and communal activity. Considering the space of an exhibition as an opportunity to engage a multitude of collaborators as well as the audience, I investigate a practice of expanded performance, where unrehearsed tasks allow for exploratory (rather than performed) action and offer a direct experience to an audience. I am interested in the potential for art works to evolve or change from day to day or hour to hour through activations by a community that forms around an exhibition, rather than approaching an exhibition as a finished form. Though never completed, the work achieves aesthetic resolution again and again in myriad ways. As in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics – which holds that numerous realities exist in parallel to ours – many branching climaxes and resolutions are explored and played out over the course of my performances and exhibitions.

Building on a long history in conceptual art, performance art and music, my scores take the form of graphic drawings, audio recordings, maps, sheet music and text. Like the narrow part of the hourglass or the catch in the prism that bends the light, the score is the place where trajectory and intention is compressed, emerging from the other side transformed. The score allows for chance and spontaneity. Between the making of the score and its interpretation something will inevitably be lost (and gained) in translation, offering a genuine experience of discovery. The score unseats the artist as sole author and renders her a fellow witness; she observes the work unfolding with surprise, delight, uncertainty and discovery alongside the audience.


In my current project, Scores for a Black Hole (2019), events both quotidian and profound unfold daily around a seven-foot hole excavated from the concrete floor of the gallery and filled with black ink. Large enough to fall into, this void serves as a site for collective action and shared experience, exerting a powerful gravitational field. Numerous collaborators—from artists to actors to novelists to children to yogis and more—are invited to enact a scripted yet unrehearsed response of their own to the black hole, allowing for the spontaneous, unforeseen and unrepeatable to take shape.

A poet tells every joke she knows to the black hole; mothers nurse their babies around it; an astronomer delivers a lecture to it; a murky creature casts pennies into it; a brother and sister lock eyes across it; dreams are whispered to it; a metronome keeps time next to it; an artist vows not to struggle anymore and does her taxes at the edge of it; an opera singer serenades it. Steadfast yet mutable, the black hole becomes a manifestation of and metaphor for the unconscious, the unknown, the void, the infinite, collapsed stars, absence, sorrow, darkness, stillness, reflection and contemplation.

Forty-three hand-made, black-and-white ink drawings also line the walls, functioning at once as instruction, archive and poem. These text- and image-based scores serve to describe what has happened and what will come over the course of the exhibition. Through their aesthetic restraint and precision of language, they create a tension with the ongoing performative actions across the room. With their arrangement on the wall, the drawings dually act as calendar, calling attention to the exhibition’s unfolding nature and emphasizing a rhythm of daily life.

Day-by-day as each score is performed the meaning, nature and function of the exhibition itself shifts dramatically and unpredictably, with no two visits yielding the same experience. This open-ended and collaborative way of working serves to question what the role of an artist might be, resisting models of genius or brand and insisting on collective experience. Over the course of an exhibition, my collaborators and I enact over sixty distinct performances that ask the audience to contemplate the role of the human inside our current political, economic and social order. Together we face a reflective void and in it encounter the immediacy of our own experience, be it thrilling, ordinary, or something as yet unknown.

In another recent work, Score for the Big Bang (2018) I seek to connect humanity with our origins at the beginning of time. Working with University of Virginia professor of astronomy Dr. Mark Whittle and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, I translated the sound produced by the Big Bang into a score for voice and pipe organ. The composition is based on measurements of the radiation that comes directly from the incandescent fireball of the infant universe. It takes as a point of departure the characterization of cosmic sound throughout human history: Pythagoras’ notion of a “music of the spheres,” the Torah’s description of the creator of the universe as ‘a still, small voice,’ and the Vedic conception of anahata nada as an omnipresent sound from which all the universe originates.


Beyond the necessary adjustments to make the primordial sound accessible to human ears—400,000 years of sonic material is compressed into eight minutes and the pitches are raised up fifty octaves to sit within the range of human hearing— the score attempts to faithfully represent the cosmic sound in both content and form. The music is aleatoric, meaning that while the general course of the composition is determined, some primary elements are left up to chance. Significantly, chance, in the form of a fluctuating quantum field, determined the formation of the structures in the infant universe that produced the primordial sound. Score for the Big Bang is the primeval sound released through the original, primal instrument, the human voice.


At the core of my practice is the desire to find meaning in human life. Confronted with the vastness of the cosmos, the horrors of human history or the finality of death, I seek to reconcile the trivial, banal, or quotidian with the profound and incomprehensible. We eat breakfast at the edge of infinity – we must look away in order to get through the day. Yet there it is yawning with limitless mystery when we look over our shoulders. My work grapples with this existential condition: the everyday business of being alive against the not knowing what, if anything, life means. Poignantly, it is here that I find meaning and creative force: in the knife’s edge between brushing one’s teeth and bottomless grief, in the coin’s flip between reading the paper and enlightenment, in singing the Big Bang or staging a black hole.

B. 1983, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.




2012       MFA, Virginia Commonwealth University

2005       BA, College of Creative Studies at University of California Santa Barbara


S E L E C T   E X H I B I T I O N S   &   P E R F O R M A N C E S


2019       Scores for a Black Hole, Art in General, New York, NY (solo)

Axxon N, Essex Flowers Gallery, New York, NY

2018       Score for the Big Bang, Sound Arts Richmond, Richmond, VA (solo performance)

The Serenade, The High Line, New York, NY (solo performance)

2017       White Knuckle, co-authored with Carey Denniston, Kate Werble Gallery, New York, NY (solo performance)

Nine, Queens Museum, Queens, NY

2016       #1 Hit, co-authored with Carey Denniston, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY (solo performance)

Scarlet Street, Lucien Terras Gallery, New York, NY

9 Evenings + 50, Fridman Gallery, New York, NY

Dance and Process, The Kitchen, New York, NY

2015       North Shore, co-authored with Carey Denniston, Moiety Project Space, Brooklyn, NY (solo)

Crossing Listening Thresholds, Art in General, New York, NY

InLight, organized by 1708 Gallery, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

The Transportation Business, Jane Lombard Gallery, New York, NY

Exchange(AR), VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow, Ireland

2014       Score For Two Dinosaurs, Queens Museum, Queens, NY (solo performance)

Variations VIII, co-authored with John Dombroski, SkowheganNYC + Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY (solo performance)

A Narrow Hollow Volume, co-authored with Melanie McLain, Practice, Philadelphia, PA (solo)

Three’s Company for Eight Performers, Churner and Churner Gallery, New York, NY (solo performance)

Starting Here, Art, Design & Architecture Museum, Santa Barbara, CA

XX, Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Recuperative Tactics, Art In General, New York, NY

Select 2014, Artisphere, Arlington, VA

2013       Score for a Dinosaur, Temple Contemporary, Philadelphia, PA (solo)

Score for Two Dinosaurs, Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, ME (solo)

Queens International, Queens Museum, Queens, NY

Untitled (As of Yet), Flux Factory, Queens, NY

Approaching Infinity, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA

2012       Score for a Cyclone, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (solo performance)

Music of the Spheres, The Anderson Gallery Carriage House, Richmond, VA (solo)

2011       Strange Magic, Guest Spot Gallery, Baltimore, MD

Liminal Light, Project 4, Washington, DC

The Wrong Miracle, NoMINIMO, Guayaquil, Ecuador

2010       5th National Juried Exhibition, Axis Gallery, Sacramento, CA

Big Paper Winter, Woodward Gallery, New York, NY

2009       Ander Mikalson, Charlie Horse Project Space, Brooklyn, NY (solo)



P R I Z E S   &   A W A R D S


2016       Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant

2013       Art Matters Foundation Grant

2012       Graduate Research Grant, VCU School of the Arts

Thesis/Dissertation Assistantship, VCU Graduate School

2011       Graduate School Assistantship, Virginia Commonwealth University

2010       Award of Distinction, Axis Gallery Fifth National Juried Exhibition

Graduate School Assistantship, Virginia Commonwealth University

2005       Highest Honors at Graduation, University of California, Santa Barbara

William Dole Memorial Fund Award, University of California, Santa Barbara

Department of Art Honors, University of California, Santa Barbara

Colin R. Gardner Award for Excellence in Theoretical Writing, University of California, Santa                   Barbara

Faculty Award of Distinction, University of California, Santa Barbara

2004       Department of Art Honors, University of California, Santa Barbara

Leonard Goodman Scholarship, University of California, Santa Barbara

2003       Melba Abrams Prize, University of California, Santa Barbara

Leonard Goodman Scholarship, University of California, Santa Barbara



R E S I D E N C I E S   &   F E L L O W S H I P S


2019       Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Washington, D.C.

Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Arts Center Residency, New York, NY

2018       Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity Residency, Alberta, Canada

2017       Queens Museum Studio Program Residency, Queens, NY

Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency, Captiva, FL

2016       Queens Museum Studio Program Residency, Queens, NY

Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Process Space Residency, New York, NY

2015       Queens Museum Studio Program Residency, Queens, NY

2012       Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Residency, Skowhegan, ME

College Art Association Professional-Development Fellowship in the Visual Arts

2011       Mildred’s Lane Residency, Beach Lake, PA

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Graduate Fellowship

2007       Salem Art Works Residency, Salem, NY

2006       Yolo County Arts Council Residency, Woodland, CA





Martin, Julie. 9e+50, Fridman Gallery, New York, NY

Cushing, Iris. Score for Jack’s Tattoo, Churner and Churner, New York, NY, 2014.

Queens International 2013, Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY, 2013.

Approaching Infinity: The Richard N. Green Collection of Contemporary Abstraction, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA

Fuller, Daniel. Ander Mikalson: Score For Two Dinosaurs, The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, Portland, ME, 2013.





Duffy, Owen. “Performa Reports: Ander Mikalson,” Performa Magazine, March 15, 2019.

Catley, Kimberly. “Scoring the Big Bang,” VCUarts, November 2, 2018.

Prestidge, Holly. “Sound Arts Richmond – A Collision of Sound and Visual Arts – Pushes Sound as an Artistic Medium,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 25, 2018.

“Featured Artist,” SculptureCenter SculptureNotebook, January 2017.

Heinrich, Will. “What to See in New York Galleries This Week,” New York Times, October 13, 2016.

Spencer, Paul. ”Confederate Chapel to Get Trippy Makeover During InLight,” Richmond Style Weekly, November 3, 2015.

Levere, Jane L. “Come Right In: Artists in Residence Put Out the Welcome Mat,” New York Times, October 28, 2015.

Zhang, Hanlu. Critic’s Pick review,, August 21, 2014.

Stannard, Joseph. “Phonautogram,” The Wire UK, January 2014, Issue 359.

Newhouse, Sam. “The Art of the Steal: Taken at Practice Gallery,”, May 7, 2013

Schroeder, Nicholas. ”Inside the Bellies of the Beasts at ICA at MECA,” Portland Phoenix, March 27, 2013.

Appleton, Andrea. “Strange Magic,” Baltimore City Paper, December 13, 2011.

Dalkey, Victoria. “Axis Show Elevates Summer Art Scene,” Sacramento Bee, August 15, 2010, 13.

Bendik, Joe. “Paper Products,” Chelsea Clinton News, January 28, 2010, Vol. LXXI, Issue 5.



V I S I T I N G   A R T I S T   &   L E C T U R E R


2019       Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ

Columbia University, New York, NY

Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

The New School, New York, NY

2017       Pace University, New York, NY

City University of New York, New York, NY

2016      Queens Museum, Artist Services Program, Queens, NY

2013      Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, NY

2012       Virginia Commonwealth University Honors College, Berglund Lecture Series, Richmond, VA

Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond, VA