2021 Rakow Commission: Leo Tecosky

2021 Rakow Commission: Leo Tecosky

A blown glass letter B in pink, surrounded by orange and blue blown glass arrows

The 36th Chamber
Leo Tecosky (American, born 1981)
Made in Brooklyn, New York, United States, 2021
Blown, hot-sculpted, carved and enameled glass; steel armature, spray paint
2021.4.19, 36th Rakow Commission, purchased with funds from the Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Endowment Fund

Brooklyn-based artist Leo Tecosky, who blends hip hop, graffiti, and glass, has made his most ambitious work to date for the 36th annual Rakow Commission. The 36th Chamber (2021) is now on view in the Contemporary Art + Design Galleries.

Tecosky is drawn to art forms that blend and layer a range of influences. In graffiti and hip hop, both of which played important roles in his upbringing, Tecosky found forms that allow for and encourage artists to bring together samples and styles from a breadth of different traditions. Using this same approach, his own work brings the building blocks of hip hop—the DJing, MCing, and breakdancing—and the aesthetics of graffiti—the looping letters, arrows, and stars—into the glass shop. The result are highly crafted works that radiate power, intensity, and cool grace.

“Leo Tecosky is among the most compelling artists of his age, and the one to most fully bring the cultural potency of hip hop to glass,” said Susie J. Silbert, curator of postwar and contemporary glass. “Blending traditional techniques drawn from both art forms, his work speaks in new ways, extending the reach of both traditions. It saturates and inculcates viewers into his way of seeing, and stakes a claim for center and periphery, for hip hop and glass, and for his identity in all its complexities. Tecosky has long been beloved by other glassworkers and others in the know—I am thrilled to see his work enter the Museum’s collection and to see him gain the broader recognition he well deserves.”

Tecosky’s new work for CMoG, The 36th Chamber, is an expansive wall installation that incorporates his recent technical advances in blown letter forms, cutting, and enameling, with conceptual elements drawn from the Five Percent Nation, one of hip hop’s most resonant intellectual roots. The piece comprises nine blown glass forms, each a common element of graffiti, held in a welded steel frame whose loops, curves, and dashes riff on graffiti’s stylized typography. Stars and serifs, arrows, and a crown—all ornamented by brilliant cuts and tagged with enamel marker—radiate out from a bubble letter B. 

Leo Tecosky

The B is drawn from the Supreme Alphabet of the Five Percent Nation, a cultural movement inspired by Islam in its Black American context and a central force of conscious hip hop since the art form’s beginning. Like Rakim, KRS-1, and the Wu-Tang Clan before him, Tecosky finds inspiration in the pro-Black messages of the Five Percent Nation, which advocate self-knowledge and self-determination. He uses their divination strategies to layer meaning in his work, collapsing references into his glass the way a DJ lays down samples. In the Supreme Alphabet, the letter B signifies “to be” and “born.” It is “breath” and, therefore, it is life. Placed at the center of The 36th Chamber and crowned, the B suggests that life—that being—is the force from which all else flows.

“Glassblowing is a technique predicated on the bubble and on centrifugal force,” said Silbert. “It is a medium that like ballet, privileges tight turns around a radial axis. To produce flattened, asymmetrical hollow objects, as Tecosky does, with sharp points and angles is to work against the standard. It is a defiant and creative act; it is the difference between hip hop’s pop and lock and ballet’s pirouette. His technical advancement opened his practice to new methods of construction and display, allowing his work to occupy space beyond simply light and line or the constraints of a single vessel.”

“I want people to roll up on the Rakow and be like, I've never seen anything like that before. And I want them to question everything they know about everything that they can see within that work,” Tecosky said about the Rakow Commission. “Graffiti, glass cutting, enameling—I want people to be bewildered by it, because they’ve never seen that collection of elements before. I want them to feel like they’re in front of the RZA who’s breaking down math. And you’re like, okay, never heard that before, but it makes perfect sense. That’s what I’m looking for. That moment of transformation.”