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To Sept. 4
Every day, in factories all around the world, manufacturers mold rubbers both natural and synthetic into countless useful objects—condoms, pencil erasers, chew toys. Such ingenuity is impressive—without it we wouldn’t have that little strip around car doors that keeps the rain out—but no commercial rubber product is quite as arresting as the work of artist Chakaia Booker. The New Jersey-born “Rubber Queen” creates beautiful, powerful, and somewhat elastic sculpture out of her preferred polymer: car tires. Junkyard Goodyears, Michelins, and Pirellis, mostly, although she will use the occasional bicycle inner tube or unidentifiable piece of scrap. Gearheads have tricked out every car part except tires—but Booker has changed that. Since adopting rubber as her primary medium in the ’90s, she has transformed the doughnut from a rolling workhorse, twisting pieces of radials and triple-treads into works that speak to the experiences of African-Americans and women. She strikes a balance between letting the rubber run wild and pulling it into controlled abstractions that gently suggest forms: an African mask, a gigantic fuzzy wrench, a vagina. The work, in and of itself, seems to completely strip the tire of all function. But by creating new, unexpected objects with such a familiar, ubiquitous material, Booker makes tires perform their originally intended purpose—shock absorption. “Forefront: Chakaia Booker” is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Monday, Sept. 4, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. $5. (202) 783-5000. (Sarah Godfrey)