PURCHASE, NY.- Although best known as a photographer and a performance artist, Hannah Wilke (19401993) began her career as a sculptor working in ceramics, which was the foundation for all other aspects of her practice. Throughout her career, she produced videos, performances, and photographs in which she used her own body to confront the erotic representation of women in art history and popular culture, and to examine issues of sexuality, femininity, and feminism.
Wilkes work was radical in form and produced long before the feminist art movement was underway. Artist Willem de Kooning, who purchased one of her works, observed that Wilke was the first to make abstract expressionist sculpture. But during her lifetime, American museums were leery about featuring her work, possibly due its confrontational use of female sexuality and the difficulty in characterizing it. It was not until her diagnosis with lymphoma that many of these same museums reconsidered. Nevertheless, her roots and practice as a sculptor have almost been forgotten, and been replaced by critical investigations of her work as a photographer and performance artist.
Hannah Wilke: Gestures, organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art | Purchase College, will revise these narrow visions. The exhibition includes Wilkes early box sculptures and gestural objects, then considers the way in which her complex conception of sculpture fed the development of her living sculptures, video, and performance art. Hannah Wilke: Gestures will be on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art from October 3, 2008 to January 25, 2009.
"Wilke used a variety of unique materials to create her sculptures: latex, laundry lint, Playdoh, ceramics, chewing gum, even kneaded erasers," says Tracy Fitzpatrick, Neuberger Museum of Art/Purchase College Assistant Professor of Art History, who curated the show. "Her own body became sculptural material."
This exhibition promises to be the most significant to date on the artists work. Included in the show are over 60 of her works -- her small and delicate clay vaginal forms that she called Boxes, a pun on contemporary slang for the word vagina; her 1974 Gestures, a film of close-ups of the artist kneading and pulling at her skin, rubbing her face and sticking out her tongue; and materials from her living sculpture pieces including her 1978 Public Art Fund benefit performance Hannah Wilke Can: A Living Sculpture Needs to Make a Living. Also in the exhibition are examples of her floor ceramics and Hannah Manna, a little known work that Wilke produced for the 1985 A Garden of Knowledge exhibition that consists of multiple brightly colored ceramic folds that originally sat on live sod.
Major exhibition support is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Exhibition sponsorship is also provided by Barbara T. Cowen and Marcella Kahn. Support for related public programs is provided by Elizabeth Sackler, Ph.D. and the Museum Educational Trust of the Jewish Communal Fund and and the New York Community TrustYaseen Lectures on the Fine Arts.