Commonwealth and Council

Art Basel Hong Kong 2023

Kenneth Tam: Silent Spikes


Silent Spikes navigates the intersections of masculinity, race, and labor economics. With a two-channel video and sculpture installation, Tam considers how Asian men have been stereotyped and maligned against the iconic trope of American masculinity: the cowboy. The video incorporates visual and narrative references to the labor strike organized by Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers in 1867, as well as the loosely scored activities of Tam’s participants, choreographed and free movements, and reflections that promote intimacy and connection to the self. Drawing inspiration from this history, and centuries of discriminatory practices and representation of the Asian male in media and cinema, Tam reflects upon the entangled histories of Westward expansion and immigration in the U.S. by working collaboratively with contemporary subjects of the Asian Diaspora.

Silent Spikes was commissioned by the Queens Museum with support from the Asian Art Circle of the Guggenheim Museum. It is currently on view at Ballroom Marfa and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson and was previously exhibited at Queens Museum, New York; Times Square Arts, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; and Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

Silent Spikes is in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

Read more about Silent Spikes: The New York TimesHyperAllergicContemporary Art Review LABrooklyn RailArt PapersArt in America, and Frieze.

Art Basel Conversations | Time Travelers: When Artists Remix the Past to Reframe the Present with Kenneth Tam, Sim Chi Yin, Mónica de Miranda; moderated by Ho Tzu Nyen. More information here.

Kenneth Tam (b. 1982, Queens; lives and works between Houston and Queens) received an MFA in 2010 and a BFA from Cooper Union in 2004. Tam is currently assistant professor at Rice University, Houston. Solo exhibitions have been held at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles (2023, 2019, 2016); Ballroom Marfa (2022); Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson (2022); Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2021); Queens Museum (2021); Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (2021); The Kitchen, New York (2020); Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville (2020); Visual Arts Center, The University of Texas at Austin (2019); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica (2018); Minneapolis Institute of Art (2018); and MIT List Center for Visual Arts, Cambridge (2017). Selected group exhibitions have been held at The Shed, New York (2021); SculptureCenter, Queens (2019); 47 Canal, New York (2018); Hollybush Gardens, London (2017); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016); and Museum of Fine Arts Houston (2016). Tam is a recipient of a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists (2023), New York State Council on the Arts Grant (2023), New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Work (2021), Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant (2023, 2019, 2016), California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2015), and Art Matters Foundation Grant (2013). He has participated in residencies at 18th Street Arts Center (2018); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace (2017-18); and Core Program, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2015).

Tam's work is in the collections of Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.