Kathleen Ryan is a sculptor who is best known for her three-dimensional sculptures of moldy fruit recalling vanitas and their reminder of the impermanence of life. In her practice, Ryan manipulates found and handmade forms with surprising materials—delicate grapes made of concrete, flower seed pods from a repurposed yellow showerhead, and mold using precious gemstones.  

Ryan’s series of larger-than-life, studded Bad Fruits harness the material and visual excess of gems to comment on how and why objects are valued. Fruit has long been a symbol of human consumption and decay in Western art—from Dutch Golden Age still life painting to the beaded fruit craft tradition of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s that influences her work. Playing on a genre of craft objects often given little monetary value and relegated to the shelves of thrift stores, Ryan’s work considers luxury and value.  

In Ryan’s Bad Lemon (Cameo), fake gems adorn the artificial lemon’s healthy yellow rind, while precious pearls and crystals are reserved for the moldy bacterial growths, a playful inversion of what is wanted or valued and what makes the lemon “bad.” The artist’s meticulous translation of a natural phenomenon like decay through the accumulation and arrangement of thousands of stones and beads renders the surfaces of her sculptures mesmerizing. This play between attraction and revulsion and the benefits of close looking are at the heart of Ryan’s singular practice.