Press Release

PAFA Presents Melt/Carve/Forge: Embodied Sculptures by Cassils

PAFA Presents
Melt/Carve/Forge: Embodied Sculptures by Cassils

Powerful performance-based sculpture that ignites the canon of art history

November 19, 2016 - March 5, 2017
Opening reception: Saturday, December 3, 4 - 6 p.m.

"One of ten transgender artists who are changing the landscape of contemporary art." -- Huffington Post

"Cassils puts a match under our certainties and perceptions, making you confront what you might prefer to ignore." -- The Guardian

PHILADELPHIA (November 7, 2016) -- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) presents Melt/Carve/Forge: Embodied Sculptures By Cassils, the first U.S. solo museum exhibition of the artist's groundbreaking work in performance, photography, video, and sculpture.

Melt/Carve/Forge is on view from November 19 through March 5 in the Morris Gallery and the rotunda of PAFA, 118 N. Broad Street. The centerpiece of the multi-faceted, multi-media exhibition is Becoming an Image, Cassils' one-time-only performance piece in PAFA's historic Cast Hall on December 2.

In the live performance, Cassils unleashes an attack on a 2,000-pound clay block, delivering a series of kicks and blows in total darkness. The spectacle is only illuminated by a photographer's camera flash, which burns the image into the viewer's retina. Cassils initially performed Becoming an Image at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California, which houses the largest collection of LGBTQ materials in the world, pointing to the evidence of queer and trans lives that are often missing from historical representation. The result of this performance is a series of bashed bodies marked with the imprint of fists, knees, elbows, sweat and struggle.

Potent photographs from Becoming an Image show the artist sweating, grimacing, and flying through the air, a primal force pummeling a block of clay and confronting the invisible histories of violence against transgender people. An accompanying piece called Ghost places the visitor in the center of this violence through only the sounds from the performance.

"Thinking of the body as raw sculptural material, transformed by strict physical training regimes, Cassils forges a series of powerfully trained bodies for different performative purposes," stated Jodi Throckmorton, PAFA's Curator of Contemporary Art.

Additionally, Cassils will exhibit a new series of concrete and bronze sculptures called The Resilience of the 20%, cast from the bashed remnants of prior performances of Becoming an Image and proposed as a public monument marking sites where acts of violence against trans and gender nonconforming people have occurred.

"The Resilience of the 20% refers to the sickening statistic that in 2012, murders of trans people increased worldwide by 20 percent. We are in a moment of high trans visibility, but representation of some does not mean lived equality for all," Cassils noted.

Cassils' work, rooted in art history, invigorates and resonates with the exhibition Thomas Eakins: Photographer on view in PAFA's Richard C. von Hess Foundation Works on Paper Gallery.

Tiresias, a video of an arduous, almost five-hour performance in which Cassils melts an ice sculpture of a classic male torso with only body heat, will be on display in the rotunda of PAFA's Historic Landmark Building along with a casting of the ancient Greek marble known as the Belvedere Torso.

Time Lapse Grids is Cassils' reinterpretation of Eleanor Antin's 1972 performance Carving: A Traditional Sculpture. Unlike the feminine act of weight loss via self-starvation in Antin's performance, Cassils' performance involves a transformation into a traditionally masculine muscular form via intensive bodybuilding.

PAFA President, CEO and Acting Museum Director David R. Brigham said, "Cassils' innovative approach to media and the human form resonates with longstanding PAFA traditions of exploring the body, stretching back to at least the time of Thomas Eakins. This is an especially fitting moment to present Cassils' work, given the timelessness of the issues Cassils explores and the fact that we are marking the hundredth anniversary of Eakins' death."

Juxtaposed against the context of PAFA's museum, with its role in the preservation of traditional modes of art making including sculpture and photography, Cassils' work constructs a visual critique around ideologies and histories with sweat, blood and sinew.

In conjunction with Melt/Carve/Forge, PAFA presents Thomas Eakins, Photography, and Cassils: Three Dialogues on December 3, an afternoon featuring three moderated panel discussions with speakers from a variety of disciplines. At 3 p.m., Cassils will be joined by Dr. Jennifer Doyle, Professor, University of California Riverside, and moderator Jodi Throckmorton for a discussion of Gender and Sexuality in 19th and 21st Century Photography.

Note from the artist regarding gender and pronoun usage:
Cassils is a gender non-conforming trans masculine visual artist. Cassils uses plural gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their) and asks that journalists do likewise when referring to them. The plurality reflects through language the position Cassils occupies as an artist. For guidelines on writing about gender non-conforming people, please reference the GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender Issues:



SEI is the exclusive Presenting Sponsor of the Morris Gallery Exhibition Program.


About PAFA
Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts, PAFA is a recognized leader in fine arts education with a world-class permanent collection of American art. The Morris Gallery Exhibition Program at PAFA serves as a showcase for a diverse array of emerging and mid-career artists from the Philadelphia region and beyond and reflects the pluralistic nature of art-making today. 
About SEI 
SEI (NASDAQ:SEIC) is a leading global provider of investment processing, investment management, and investment operations solutions that help corporations, financial institutions, financial advisors, and ultra-high-net-worth families create and manage wealth. As of September 30, 2016, through its subsidiaries and partnerships in which the company has a significant interest, SEI manages or administers $751 billion in mutual fund and pooled or separately managed assets, including $281 billion in assets under management and $470 billion in client assets under administration. For more information, visit
Last Updated
November 7, 2016 - 10:23 AM

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.