Beads Become Clouds: The Art of Liza Lou

The newest beaded sculptures by L.A. artist Liza Lou are on view at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York this month. These may be the most intricate and mesmerizing contemporary artworks this fall… and that’s before you find out how they’re made.

Nacreous, 2018. Photo by Matthew Herrmenn

Nacreous, 2018 (detail). Photo by Matthew Herrmenn

Pyrocumulus, 2018

Pyrocumulus, 2018 (detail)

Each work is made from multiple sheets of hand-sewn white glass beads that are often painted and stained with color. From a distance, they resemble used “paint rags” or old paper towels – that get exponentially more beautiful the closer you look. My (very rough) estimate is that each 14-inch square hold around 20,000 beads. The completed works are composed of a grid of many squares, often layered 2 or 3 sheets deep.

Noctilucent, 2018 (detail)

Noctilucent, 2018

Noctilucent, 2018 (detail)

To achieve the veil-like patches, Liza smashes and crushes sections of the work, breaking the glass beads and revealing the thread matrix. In other words: to create the most beautiful effects, hours of labor had to be destroyed.

Artist Liza Lou. Photo by Mick Haggerty

Artist Liza Lou. Photo by Jason Schmidt

Liza has been recognized for her beaded sculptures and installations since the mid-90s that often resemble real objects: a full-size kitchen, a mile-long rope, and a chain link fence – all made from beads. This new direction was inspired by the differences in cloud formations between her two home bases: Los Angeles and Durban, South Africa.

Liza Lou, Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds. Lehmann Maupin, New York, 2018

The largest work in the gallery is the wall-filling “The Clouds” (2015-2018)- a grid of 600 squares measuring a total 50 feet wide by 23 feet tall. The scale literally fills your field of view, which truly does feel more like an atmosphere than an object.

Drawing Instrument II, 2016-2018

Drawing Instrument II, 2016-2018 (detail)

In addition to the beading, Liza also makes drawings that resemble thousands of beads. The greatest surprise of the exhibition is hidden in the basement (take the elevator – open to the public) – a video work titled “Drawing Instrument” which records and remixes her unique drawing practice of singing while she works. With every stroke of her pen, Liza makes a sound effect with her voice. The video combines multiple layers of tracks to create hypnotically beautiful music compositions while you watch her mark-making. I captured this short clip on my iPhone to give a hint of just how magical it is.

Lichenform I, 2018

Lichenform I, 2018 (detail)

And there’s MORE! Two blocks south, at Lehmann Maupin’s 22nd street location, a small room is dedicated to a different body of Liza’s work. Unlike the “cloud” works that are made from identical-sized white beads, these sculptures were created using different-sized beads that warp and push the structure into forms that resemble lava formations or growths of moss.

Aggregate: Mushroom, 2018

Liza Lou, Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, New York, 2018

Liza Lou’s “Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds” is on view until the end of October. My only suggestion is to plan on staying a few minutes longer than you think you’ll need, because you won’t want to leave.

What: Liza Lou: Classification and Nomenclature of Clouds
Where: Lehmann Maupin Gallery, 501 W 24th Street and 536 W 22nd Street, New York, NY
When: September 6 – October 27, 2018

All photos by Joshua White unless otherwise noted. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.