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Jim Sanborn

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Born in 1945 in Washington D. C., James Sanborn would spend his childhood in Alexandria, Virginia, attending JEB Stuart High School in Fairfax. His career began to take shape as he studied archaeology at Oxford University and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in paleontology, fine arts, and social anthropology from Randolph-Macon College in 1968. In 1971 he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was a teacher at Montgomery College in Rockville and at Glen Echo Park. Sanborn has completed more than 125 sculptural installations around the world, including "All the Ships Sailed in Circles" at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan, "The Cryllic Projector" at the University of North Carolina, "Coastline" at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, "Antipodes" at Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D. C., "Binary Systems" at the Central Computing Facility Internal Revenue Service in Martinsburg, West Virginia, an incised copper and granite piece titled "Comma" which lights up the plaza in front of the new library at the University of Houston (2004), and bronze projection cylinders with waterjet cut text named "Radiance" at the Department of Energy, Coast and Environment at Lousiana State University (LSU) (2008). However, his most famous work remains "Kryptos," a $250,000 commission he installed outside the main entrance to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The sculpture’s name means "hidden" in Greek and Sanborn and a retired CIA cryptographer by the name of Ed Scheidt spent four months devising four encryptions that Sanborn embedded in the sculpture's curved copper panels. Sanborn and Scheidt figured that the first three encryptions would take a few years to solve and the last one maybe ten. And within the first few years, a CIA physicist deciphered the first three using nothing more than a pen and paper. (The first encryption was a poetic phrase containing an intentional misspelling that Sanborn composed; the second refers to the CIA agent who helped Sanborn with the four puzzles; and the third is a passage from archeologist Howard Carter’s account of opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.) But the fourth riddle has defied solution. On "Kryptos" 20th anniversary in November of 2010, Sanborn became so flummoxed by the CIA’s inability to crack the code that he decided to give everyone a clue. Sanborn told the New York Times that the part of the sculpture that reads “nypvtt” becomes Berlin once decoded. “The ‘Berlin’ clue makes a lot of sense, in historical context of the Berlin Wall coming down that year,” says code cracker Elonka Dunin, a game designer who moderates the Yahoo Group and maintains a comprehensive website on "Kryptos." The Berlin Wall came tumbling down in November of 1989, almost exactly a year before the dedication of "Kryptos" at CIA headquarters, and would have been on Sanborn’s mind. Dunin also points out that three slabs of the Berlin Wall sit at CIA headquarters, a gift from the German government. Although the slabs weren’t dedicated as a monument until 1992, two years after "Kryptos," Dunin thinks it’s possible the CIA had already chosen a spot for them when Sanborn was designing "Kryptos" and told him about it. If anyone does manage to solve the last cipher, that won’t end the hunt for the ultimate truth about "Kryptos." “There may be more to the puzzle than what you see,” Scheidt says. “Just because you broke it doesn’t mean you have the answer.” All of this leads one to ask: Is there a solution? Sanborn insists there is—but he would be just as happy if no one ever discovered it. “In some ways, I’d rather die knowing it wasn’t cracked,” he says. “Once an artwork loses its mystery, it’s lost a lot.”

C/O M Mateyka Gallery US 20009