Bringing together works from the early 1960s through to 1987, Alison Jacques Gallery in London is currently presenting an exhibition spanning three decades of the American painter, sculptor, photographer, video and performance artist Hannah Wilke’s work, in partnership with The Hannah Wilke Collection and Archive, Los Angeles. This is the first time since Wilke’s death in 1993 that her paintings on canvas from the 60s have been exhibited.
Wilke’s firm legacy as a pioneering, often controversial, feminist and conceptual artist has been cemented in recent years with major shows in the US and abroad, and her embrace of a radical feminist project has made her work particularly resonant in the past decade. Wilke’s ideological ground is evident not only in her early use of vaginal imagery as a feminist intervention but also in her radical choice of materials, utilizing terracotta and ceramic, latex, chewing gum and erasers, all unusual materials the time period, yet drawn on for their malleability and fragility in reflecting the sense of vulnerability that is consistent throughout Wilke’s practice.
Central to the exhibition is one of Wilke’s largest installations, Untitled, (1974 – 77) consisting of 103 painted flesh-colored terracotta sculptures. Arranged in scattered configurations, the works mix the language of modernism and feminism, subverting the square in which the images are produced in order to arrive at broader systems of bodily iconography and fluid, evolving modes of feminist conceptualism.
The colors of these works and the forms relate in turn to many of Wilke’s drawings and sculptures, each delving into known forms and elements of the era only to twist and rearrange their content in service of a more politically-charged program. Much like the work of artist Sarah Lucas, whose current retrospective at the New Museum welcomes a similar confounding and deconstruction of masculine form, Wilke’s pieces examine and question just how the body, and its attendant forms, can be used to reposition and rework the understanding of art and its practice, or perhaps more broadly, the practice of being in the world itself.
The show closes December 21st.
— C. Reinhart
Alison Jacques [Exhibition Site]