Michael Petry was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1960 and has lived in London since 1981. He studied at Rice University, Houston (BA), London Guildhall University (MA), and has a Doctor in Arts from Middlesex University. He is an artist, writer and curator.
Petry's visual work focuses on installation art practice—a kind of art that rejects concentration on one object in favor of a consideration of the relationship between things and their contexts. The medium has a broad parentage that extends from Duchamp's readymades, through the 1960s incarnations of Kienholz, Oldenburg, Kaprow and Dine to more recent developments such as process art. Like these other artists, Petry crosses different disciplines in order to question their autonomy and their historical relevance to a contemporary context. Usually heroic in scale and sometimes witty and subversive, Petry's installations are usually impermanent—relics, souvenirs and photographic documentation are their only remnants. Major themes in Petry's work include the evolution and introspection of the individual, particularly how those concepts apply to the homosexual male. His overt interest in the male physical form is a metaphor for the spiritual. Through the microcosm, he attempts to reach the macrocosm.
Petry explores science and art, the interchange between the two and how that interchange has been perceived. He is also interested in challenging notions of beauty. In work from 2004, Petry sewed pearls onto velvet in designs that appeared to mimic constellations—the luster and shimmer revealing the beauty in art. In fact, the compositions were based on patterns made by ejaculate in a bid to expose the delicate balance between what is considered beautiful and what is considered grotesque.
His works are included in prominent public collections throughout the world including the British Museum, London; the American Craft Museum, New York; the Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublick Deutschland, Bonn; and the Bellerive Museum, Zurich.
Petry has authored several books, the most recent of which, The Art of Not Making: The New Artist Artisan Relationship, was published by Thames & Hudson in 2011. Petry was the first Artist in Residence at London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum (2010/11), exhibiting two bodies of work, published in Smoke & Mirrors (2011). In 2012, his work was featured in a solo show, The Touch of the Oracle, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, which was accompanied by a ten-year career review book distributed by Thames & Hudson.
Michael Petry is Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) London, and Guest Curator for Futurecity. He co-founded the Museum of Installation, and was guest curator at the Kunstakademiet, Oslo, and research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton and was curator of the Royal Academy Schools Gallery. Petry is a Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors (FRBS) and a Brother of the Art Workers Guild.