Millie Chen: Matter

21 February - 5 April 2019

Look right now and you will see

we’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is

so take heart and take care of your link with Life and

Oh, carry it on

— Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Carry It On”)


Anna Kaplan Contemporary is pleased to announce Matter, a solo show presenting a new body of work by Millie Chen. Matter opens on Thursday, February 21st with a reception 6-9 pm and remain on view through April 5, 2019. There will be an artist talk in the gallery (1250 Niagara St., Buffalo) on Sunday, March 24th at 4pm in the form of a conversation between Chen and Bronwyn E. Keenan, Director for the Arts Collaboratory, University at Buffalo (please note that this is the rescheduled date). Gallery hours are Wednesday – Friday 11am – 3pm, or Saturday – Tuesday by appointment (contact Anna at 716-604-6183, or by email at

Matter focuses on a body of work created in the past year, following the death of Chen’s mother. Included are works on paper and clayboard with abstract and figurative imagery created entirely of partially used cosmetics found in Chen’s mother’s home during the process of organizing and clearing her belongings. Chen has created geometries in these works that serve as supporting structures for the messy, indescribable, emotional miasma of death and loss, excess and paucity. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the matter that remains, Chen embarked on a journey of documentation, photographing anachronistic everyday objects before she gave them away, disposed of them, kept them— or used them. Chen explains:

3 artworks hung on a wall
Man looking at wall of art
close up of artwork made with shades of red lipstick
artwork on wall featuring hands cutting chives with scissors
artwork on wall swirl of flesh tones
two women looking at art on gallery wall
close up of artwork made with eyebrow pencil
art hung in a gallery
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When I sorted through my mother’s makeup, I felt a profound urge to make use of this matter as drawing media, and to keep drawing with this matter until all of the makeup was consumed. Using up the makeup was an act of transformation for me, a way of documenting and contemplating my mother’s everydayness. My mother never went out or received visitors without putting on, at the very least, lipstick and eyebrow liner— these tools allowed her to create an optimistic public face. In going through the overwhelming matter left behind, I began to experience an anxiety of optimistic objects, not only pertaining to the loss of my mother, but also to what matters in how I continue to live.

What is the matter we need to hang onto after we lose a loved one? What physical objects are needed to connect us in meaningful ways to each other, both during life and through memories? How do we deal with the onerous accumulation of stuff in our lives? After death, the things we accumulated in life are signs of our belief in a brighter future, and they become informative archives of human existence; but they can also so easily become a ball and chain, evidence of a deluded certainty in endless consumption. As Chen herself grapples with this paradox of emotion, we witness through her work as she embarks on a process of letting go and of finding peace in the finite.

Artists in This Exhibition: