The Sorcerer’s Burden: Contemporary Art & the Anthropological Turn

  • Hardcover / 9 x 12.5 inches
    100 images / 272 Pages

  • Co-published with The Contemporary Austin

    Texts by Heather Pesanti, Robert Storr, Julia V. Hendrickson

    Interview with David Odo

  • ISBN: 9781942185604
  • Trade Edition: $50.00


This full-color, 272-page expanded catalogue accompanies the exhibition The Sorcerer’s Burden: Contemporary Art and the Anthropological Turn, at The Contemporary Austin from September 14, 2019, through January 19, 2020. On view at both the museum’s gallery space in downtown Austin and its fourteen-acre outdoor sculpture park by Lake Austin, The Sorcerer’s Burden focuses on the complex relationship between art and anthropology as seen through the lens of eleven contemporary artists. Based on observations in the art world, as well as curator Heather Pesanti’s own academic background in cultural anthropology, this group exhibition steers away from scientific observations about cultures and the work of artists already well associated with this terrain, instead offering a fresh perspective through artwork that is experimental,
exploratory, and reflective of the present day.

Sourcing its title from a literary work of “ethnofiction”—the 2016 novel The Sorcerer’s Burden: The Ethnographic Saga of a Global Family by American cultural anthropologist Paul Stoller—the exhibition features works that are alternately imaginative, humorous, satirical, dark, melancholy, playful, enchanting, and mischievous. Representing a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance, the artworks in The Sorcerer’s Burden share a commonality not only in their allusions to elements of anthropology, but in their exploration of the interplay between fact and fiction, ultimately questioning whether any field, media, or genre might propose to convey “truth.”


The catalogue mirrors the exhibition’s playful and subversive bent. Artists included in the exhibition and featured in this volume include Ed Atkins, Nuotama Bodomo, Theo Eshetu, Cameron Jamie, Kapwani Kiwanga, Marie Lorenz, Nathan Mabry, Ruben Ochoa, Dario Robleto, Shimabuku, and Julia Wachtel. Also included are texts by Heather Pesanti, Chief Curator & Director of Curatorial Affairs, The Contemporary Austin; Robert Storr, artist, critic, and curator; David Odo, Director of Student Programs and Research Curator of University Collections Initiatives at the Harvard Art Museums; and Julia V. Hendrickson, curator, writer, and editor. The artists featured in the exhibition were also invited to submit images, texts, personal photos, and other inspiration and research related to their work, which is collected in the book’s “Farther Afield” section.


As Austin’s only museum solely focused on contemporary artists and their work, The Contemporary Austin offers exhibitions, educational opportunities, and events that start conversations and fuel the city’s creative spirit. Known for artist-centric projects and collaborations, The Contemporary invites exploration in both its urban and natural settings.

The exhibition and catalogue are funded in part by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.