Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Visual Arts 2023

Kenneth Tam

A black and white portrait of Kenneth Tam. He sits at an angle looking calmly off-camera over his right shoulder. He wears a collared button-down shirt.
Photo by Christian Carroll.
  • 2023 Grants to Artists
  • Visual Arts
  • Visual Artist, Interdisciplinary Artist, Educator
  • Born 1982, Queens, NY
  • Lives in Houston, TX and Queens, NY
  • Additional Information
  • This award is supported by the FCA Friends.

Artist Statement

My current artistic work examines ideas around the performance of masculinity, spaces of male intimacy, and how rituals are used to negotiate identity and belonging. Through video, sculpture, installation, performance, and photography, I’m interested in creating images and experiences that allow the body to be seen as a site for social change. The various rituals and practices that give meaning to our collective social lives form the ground from which many of my projects develop. In past projects I have worked with small groups of non-actor participants to create unscripted situations for the camera. These unrehearsed activities can be absurd yet tender, awkward while entirely sincere, and speak to the kinds of intimacies that can be created when individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable when stepping outside of their day-to-day scripted selves. These performances have the potential to be moving, strange, and beautiful, and open up new worlds so that we may reconsider the ones we currently inhabit.

- December 2022


Kenneth Tam is an artist who works with video, sculpture, installation, performance, movement, and photography. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, he examines themes such as the performance of masculinity, the transformative potential of ritual, and expressions of intimacy within groups. His work explores how spaces of intimacy can become opportunities for social change. Tam often implicates the male body in his projects, using humor and pathos to reveal the performative and unstable nature of identity, and creating situations that foreground tenderness and vulnerability within unlikely settings. His work is animated by the questions: “How do we perform ourselves?” and “What social forces are at work that give coherence to who we think we are?”

Tam’s video installation Silent Spikes premiered at the Queens Museum, Queens, NY (2021), and has also been presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, Tucson, AZ (2022); Times Square Arts, New York, NY (2021); Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (2021); and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI (2021). Through the use of tropes associated with the American West, the project explores how sensuousness can reimagine histories of labor and group identity.

Tam’s solo exhibitions include Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory, Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX (2022); The Crossing, The Kitchen, New York, NY (2020); Kenneth Tam: Details, Visual Arts Center, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX (2019); and List Projects: Kenneth Tam, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2017), among others.

Tam has participated in group exhibitions at The Shed, New York, NY (2021); SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY (2019); The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX (2016), and many others. His work is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.

Tam is the recipient of Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grants (2022, 2019, 2016), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Work (2021), a California Community Foundation Fellowship (2015), and an Art Matters Foundation Award (2013).

Tam is an assistant professor at Rice University and a member of the faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He has previously taught at Sarah Lawrence College, The New School, Princeton University, and Harvard University. Tam received his B.F.A. from The Cooper Union.

Three soft sculptures comprised of black cylindrical shapes tied off at the end lie in X shapes on a concrete floor. Behind them two performers in white tuxedos are projected onto the wall. One of them is making red marks on the other’s tuxedo.

Installation view of All of M at SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY, 2019. Photo by Phoebe d’Heurle.

Five sculptures installed in a gallery with pink walls and a cement floor. Three sculptures are mounted on each of the three visible walls, and two others, circular shapes standing upright with squares cut out of the middle, are on the floor.

Installation view of Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory, Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX, 2022. Photo by Heather Rasmussen.

Two screens stand ca. The left screen shows two performers in cowboy garb, one riding a mechanical bull, and the right screen shows a performer wearing a white t-shirt in mid-movement.

Installation view of Silent Spikes, Queens Museum, Queens, NY, 2021. Photo by Jason Mandella.

Three performers process across a darkened stage from left to right, silhouetted and holding their hands above their heads. Behind them, a performer dressed in white pants, white hooded sweatshirt, and white facemask faces the camera, well-lit and in striking contrast to the other three. A video of two blurry figures is projected against the back wall and the whole stage is bathed in blue light.

Performance still from The Crossing at The Kitchen at Queenslab, Queens, NY, 2020. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Three performers lie in a row on their left sides, one in front of the other. Each wears a red mask, red shirt, white pants, and white shoes. Their left arms are behind their heads and their torsos turn slightly as their right arm curves over their body.

Performance still from The Crossing at The Kitchen at Queenslab, Queens, NY, 2020. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Videos of performers wearing cowboy hats, red shirts, bandanas and brown vests are projected onto large screens in Times Square.

Installation view of Silent Spikes, Times Square Arts, New York, 2021 Photo by Maria Baranova.

Excerpt of Silent Spikes, commissioned by Queens Museum with support from the Asian Art Circle of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2021.