In Oliver Herring’s Studio, TASK Parties, and IS Day Blowout Party

Oliver Herring Sculpture

Areas for Action, Houston, Day 10 : Glitter. J and A Face to Face. DiverseWorks, Houston, Texas, 2015.

The International Sculpture Center in collaboration with Grounds For Sculpture sponsored Oliver Herring’s big TASK Party as part of the first International Sculpture Day on April 24. I first visited Oliver Herring’s large, long orderly studio to learn about the evolution of his projects. Alongside the regular art supplies, one unfinished photo sculpture, a self-portrait (2010), shows the artist’s facets and angles. Another life-sized photo sculpture, created after months-long interactions with a volunteer, stands near Oliver’s computer table.

In another area, a set of giant photographs documents Herring’s recent performance project Areas for Action at DiverseWorks, Houston, TX. These photographs depict participants choosing unusual poses singly and in small groups. Herring and others have variously “painted” these subjects with paint and glitter. The resulting half-lifesized photographs of people look like photos of living sculpture.

Oliver Herring Sculpture

Areas for Action, Sioux Falls : Color Spit Group (The Stampede), Close Up 1. The Washington. Pavilion, Sioux Falls, SD,

In a way, the world is Herring’s studio. He has held TASK Parties and Areas for Action performances worldwide, including Chendu and Beijing, China; Kyoto, Japan; Houston, Texas, and Madison Square Park, New York City.[i] The TASK idea, Herring told me, is straightforward: to write tasks and to perform tasks. This results in humorous, interactive, and liberating experiences accessible to all ages and cultures. As people try new things, they release stress, inhibitions, and more. Herring started with ten people in 2002.  In 2006, the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D. C. hosted a TASK Party that freed participants from the usual role — polite museum visitors. Curator Kristen Hileman recounts how that party evolved in the book TASK.[ii]  Today Herring is swamped by invitations to host TASK Parties. Senior citizens, cancer survivors, and countless classrooms (where most TASK action takes place) have benefitted from TASK. Sometimes, he directs TASK Parties that challenge him – such as one in a Philadelphia neighborhood where two dissimilar cultural groups needed a way to break the ice, meet each other, and exchange ideas. Herring’s participatory work can be somewhat wild and always leaps beyond daily behavior; that is the idea – to use art to build bridges among people and cultures.

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On IS Day – International Sculpture Day on April 24th, Herring’s TASK Party at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey was one of about 54 events planned for locations throughout the world, including two other TASK Parties simulcast from the University of South Dakota and the University of Florida to the Domestic Arts Building at Grounds For Sculpture, where the TASK Party was held. The free event attracted participants from diverse locations in the tri-state area of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. When I arrived, a crew of volunteers and staff, many in purple ISC t-shirts, were organizing materials they had scavenged. The floors and most walls had been covered with rolls of paper so that the entire interior became all-white surfaces for painting and drawing. Supply stations were loaded with pillows, paint, rolls and piles of paper, saran wrap, foils, glitter, fabric, bamboo, markers, handmade potholders, toothbrushes, baskets, gold discs, tape, scissors, glue, a green mannequin, and more. High schoolers had painted giant colorful TASK letters, and these were hung at the entrance and inside. Boxes to hold new tasks and completed tasks stood ready to be filled.

ISC TASK Party at Grounds For Sculpture | International Sculpture Day 2015 from International Sculpture Center on Vimeo.

Click here to see more great photos from the IS Day TASK Party.

The party began as people flooded into the empty building. DJ Lee Tusman was adding beats to Nina Simone’s “Whatever Lola Wants” and a mix of electronic, dance, African, and party music. A drummer joined him at times. Soon everyone was tasking – building a fort, becoming a tree, becoming a robot, drawing a self-portrait; joining a conga line, revealing secrets at the live mike. A colossal box became a gold-bricked fort with a silver chimney and a gold leg on top. Some Styrofoam became a dragon with green button scales and an orange flame tongue. The Rowan Arts Collective student volunteers (Rowan University, Glassboro NJ) goofed off in the pillow room before the children took it over. Among three tree people, one looked like Apollo. A child in gold waved her gold scepter. Two middle school girls fabricated a tall silver unicorn; a basset hound formed out of confetti, foil, and fluffballs. A woman undulated in a field of popcorn packing matter beside a doll constructed from lace fabric. Above them, a big-eyed spider dangled in its huge web. A synthetic chemist in the persona of a rock star played an air guitar as his fiancé (from Merrill Lynch, finance) sported an exotic “rainbow princess” headdress. She told me, “I feel like we’re at AVAM (American Visionary Art Museum) in Baltimore, which has a kinetic sculpture race every year.” One sister (about 9) dressed the other in a pink saran wrap strapless long gown with a train. Martha, from Westfield NJ invented a flower/shield/Ninja scythe-like weapon or fascinator hat out of a round gold disk, toothbrushes, glitter, and cut paper and told me an elaborate story about its symbolism. A child wore transparent wings with orange paper feathers. People of all sizes, colors, and shapes were transformed by materials and by liberating interactions with others.

Oliver Herring Sculpture

ISDay TASK Party-Photos by Reid Sound Inc

Folks watching live video feeds from the universities of Florida and South Dakota exchanged tasks – a first in the history of tasking: upstairs, Oliver rocked with a South Dakota woman in fuchsia feathers and a face mask as Meg, downstairs, took a selfie with a woman in Florida. All participants experienced the point of the evening: joy, sharing, creating, and the birth of new possibilities.

Stay tuned: Oliver Herring, back in his studio, has plans for even bigger New York area TASK Parties and performances. And start planning your IS Day event for next year!

By Jan Garden Castro

[i] Interview with Oliver Herring on April 17, 2015. For Areas for Action, see:

See also Oliver Herring Me Us Them. By Ian Berry. With an essay by Lawrence Rinder.  Saratoga Springs: The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2010.


[ii] See TASK. Illinois State University Galleries, 2011. This was a travelling exhibition to three universities and includes essays on Task parties at Illinois State University and at the Hirshhorn Museum.

2 responses

  1. Oliver is completely impressive. I”ve had the pleasure of seeing several of these Tasks in New York City when Max Protetch Gallery was in Chelsea and the Task at Madison Park. He is so original, inventive, committed and caring. Bravo Oliver!!

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