‘I Am Compelled by Things That Just Barely Work’: Watch Tauba Auerbach Explore the Hidden Creative Patterns Percolating Everywhere


New York-based artist Tauba Auerbach is fascinated by patterns, from the swirling eddies of handmade marbled paper to the naturally occurring symmetry in sea sponges. A polymath, Auerbach’s practice is not limited to one medium, spanning painting, weaving, sculpture, and music, and draws on a wide range of influences outside of the realm of fine art.

In this exclusive interview filmed as part of the brand-new season of Art21’s flagship series  Auerbach is shown at work in their Brooklyn studio. There, they investigate how ancient craft practices might be put to work creating wholly unique and contemporary works.

I’ve educated myself about a number of scientific or mathematical principles through crafts,” the artist says. “It seems appropriate to me to work in a lot of different materials and media and processes… because I’m focusing on connectivity and the relationship between lots of different things.”

Auerbach’s studio walls are lined with shelves holding an assortment of objects and detritus: the ashes from a burnt artwork; lattice-shaped skeletons; an intricately designed puzzle that, while frustrating, proved revelatory to the artist because it “taught me a lot about the assumptions that you make about progress along the way.”

Tauba Auerbach, Flow Separation (2018), on the Fireboat John J. Harvey, courtesy of Paula Cooper. Photo by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the Public Art Fund, New York.

Tauba Auerbach,  (2018), on the Fireboat , courtesy of Paula Cooper. Photo by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the Public Art Fund, New York.

Over the course of their career, Auerbach has probed the edges of the traditional art world: creating a 21st century “dazzle camouflage” boat in the manner of World War I warships; serving as an apprentice at New Bohemia Signs, making hand-painted signage for three years; and even creating a two-person instrument called the Auerglass, which is predicated on an absurdist notion of playing in total unison.

“I am compelled by things that just barely work,” Auerbach explains. “The near-impossibility is key.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, below. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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