Hannah Wilke: Sculptor and Sculpture

Good afternoon, and thank you for being here,
and joining us. I’m Elizabeth Sackler and it’s a pleasure for me to welcome you to the
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. As most of you know, the center opened in
March of 2007. Our mission to raise awareness of Feminism’s cultural contributions and to
educate new generations, about the meaning of Feminist art. To maintain a dynamic learning
facility, which this forum has become for us. To present discussions on Feminist activism,
and Feminist art. We have, over the past year and a half, had
five news making exhibitions, and scores of lectures, and panel discussions. We continue
to influence supporting Feminist artists, and women artists, in museums and also in
the market place. So it’s a very happy moment in time as we
go towards this new year. We’ll be having our second anniversary in March and it has
been a very, very good year and a half. Since Maura Reilly, the founding curator of the
center has left, Lauren Ross is our interim curator. She’s here with us today. This lecture would not have been possible,
without Lauren So I want to thank her very much for her commitment, and her assistance
to making this happen. First Saturdays at the museum, as many of you know, are quite
extraordinary and it takes an entire staff, of an entire museum to prepare for the crowds
that descend upon us in a couple of hours. It was Lauren’s commitment, to this exhibition,
and to the center that made it possible for us to be here. Also, that we’ll be taping
this lecture, so that we can put it on our website during the run of the exhibition. Hannah Wilke’s Sculptor, and Sculpture, is
going to be presented by Tracy Fitzpatrick, as I say, plus one. You will see why in a
moment, for those of you who don’t know already. I’m delighted to have this as an invitational
lecture in honor of Hannah Wilke. We have the magnificent Rosebud, outside. It’s lent
by the Arthur M. Sackler collection’s trust for the benefit and in honor for the center
and that it is being included in the current exhibition, Burning Down the House. Building
a Feminist collection is, a wonderful thing. I was going to go into a whole long mystery
of life having run into Tommy Schwartz, which means you know how long I’ve known him. Because
most people know him as either Tom, or Thomas Schwartz. Who’s president of SUNY Purchase,
at the Neuberger Museum, which is where Tracy hails from. I ran into him at an art table lunch. A couple
weeks later- I had invited him my house, and a couple of weeks later I had received a letter.
From the Neuberger, asking for assistance for their absolutely fabulous and fantastic
Hannah Wilke gestures, which is up at the moment. So I returned the call and it was Tracy, and
I did what I could to assist in public programming for it. Tommy came to my house for the party,
and I said- I did respond positively to the letter. He said what letter. I didn’t… I know, it was marvelous. He said I don’t
know what you’re talking about. I said that’s good news because it means somebody is really
doing their work. I want to say that not only was Tracy doing,
good work in contacting me. I very much appreciate, being part of that exhibition. But she has
curated an absolutely fabulous and important exhibition, which is up at the Neuberger Museum.
I want to thank you for it, Tracy. I think if you haven’t been there you should really
make the trip up to see it. It will be up until January 25. I thank you for inviting
me to participate in it and I thank you for participating today. We hope we’ll get through
this afternoon without having to call an ambulance. Because I’m going to introduce Tracy Fitzpatrick
plus one. Dr. Fitzpatrick is a curator at the Neuberger
Museum of art, and an assistant professor of art history in the undergraduate program,
and the masters degree program in modern and contemporary art, criticism and theory at
Purchase College SUNY. Combining curatorial work with curricular
initiatives, Fitzpatrick organizes exhibitions, and teaches in the areas of modern American
art and museology. Fitzpatrick has curated many exhibitions including
Facing Abstractions: Refiguring the Body in the 20th Century in 2006. Underground Art:
A Centennial Celebration of the New York City Subway 2005. Another Dimension: Sculptures
and printmaking, and Artful Advocacy: Cartoons From the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Her forthcoming book, Art in the Subway New
York Underground will be released in Spring of 2009 and I very much look forward to seeing
that. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation,
the American Council of Learned Societies. She is, of course, a member of the AAM, art
table and all those organizations we know and love. She received her PhD from Rutgers
University, also a great sister of this museum. I would like you to, assist me in welcoming
Tracy Fitzpatrick plus one. Welcome. Thank you. Thank you so much Elizabeth. You’re welcome. I would like to thank you so much for, being
so generous with your support for the- I’m going to knock these cords down…exhibition
and for inviting me here today, and Lauren also. Thank you so much. Let’s put this here on water on it, and put
this microphone on. Which I was told to do. S o this talk is derived from my work on the
exhibition on Wilke Gestures, which is on view on the Neuberger until the 25th. I’m sorry, I don’t usually sit when I’m giving
a public presentation, but I think if you’ll excuse me in my current condition, while I
am talking. I think we’ll all be better off if I sit while talking. I’ve been interested in Wilke’s work for a
long time and the aspect of it that has interested me most recently is really the idea behind
the exhibition. Which is that she’s generally thought of mainly as a performance artists,
mainly as a photographer, and that somehow the roots of her practice as a sculptor, seem
to fall by the way side. The idea of the exhibition is to retrace those
roots, recover some of that practice, and then link it to the performance, to the photography,
link it really to almost every aspect of what she did. I think that the definitions of her as a performance
artist, as photographer are a little bit narrow. And that it’s possible that this has occurred
or that this definitions have emerged because of the way people have written about her work,
because of the way her photographs, particularly the photographs from her “IntraVenus series”,
her last body of work, have been distributed in journals and magazines and so forth. A lot of these kinds of objects, for example
the “IntraVenus series” when it was originally exhibited, it was shown with sculptural components.
Like “The Black One” and “Why not sneeze.” But people don’t see the installation shots
of the way these objects were originally shown. They really just see the photographs. And
so I think this has contributed to the loss of thinking about her really as a sculpture. “Why not sneeze” by the way is related to
the Duchamp piece, Why not sneeze. And Duchamp was one of Wilke’s very important sources. Hanna Wilke created a sculpture through gestures.
Simple folds of movements, or simple folds and movements of materials whether it was
clay, or bubble gum, or Play Doh. It was really gestures that turn them and herself, I’ll
argue in this talk, into sculpture. And here you see her in her studio in a kind
of sea of her clay folds, and she produced these folds throughout her career. She began
experimenting with both radical form, and content, at a young age. Continuing this path
as an undergraduate, a sculpture major at Tyler’s School of Art at Temple University.
She graduated from there in 1962, with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, and a Bachelor of Science in
Education. Some of the earliest sculptures that she produced
there, like this two part on the left. This two piece untitled work from about 1960. Were
fashioned out of plaster of Paris. These are very sort of crackly looking works, they have
very fragile surfaces. You can see when you look closely at a work
like this, you can actually see the artist’s fingerprints left in the plaster where she
was working it while it was still wet. This is figurative and abstract. The work on the right is an example of painted
fiber glass and metal. The anthropophonic, form for 1963. This is another material that
Wilke worked in very early in her career. Wilke described these works as, “abstracted
arm and leg like structures reaching up with big separate centers connecting them.” They do look like- or this one does sort of
look like a sort of an over grown flower, and the surface is very modeled with this
very rich kinds of greens. And you see the tentacles that are extruding from it. Now after working for a period of time using
plaster, using fiber glass. She determined that these materials were not malleable enough.
She had also been working with clay. And it’s about at this moment when she really turns
to clay, as a mainstay of her work. Among the earliest examples, of her use of
clay are these very small delicate forms she called blooms, or boxes. Which is a pun, on
contemporary slang for the word vagina. And almost all of the works that Wilke did during
this period were abstracted images of the body, particularly vaginal forms. To give
shape to female desire, to give shape to sexual fulfillment. The anthropomorphic form, also. It has a kind
of a secret. You can just make out in the centre of it. You can see the white table
underneath it. It has kind of secret center to it, but it’s
hidden by these petal like folds. And, these were definitely images of the female body,
that Wilke was making during this time. The boxes- and here you see one of her clay
boxes from the early 1960’s. They’re these sort of deep caverns. They are constructed
of layers of clay, sometimes with these…you can see in the detail these little slits at
the bottom. Built up by these overlapping layers, where she would, in this particular
case, add texture to the clay by pressing burlap or some other kind of fabric into the
clay while, it’s still wet. At first she was quite reticent to talk about
the content of her work. She would explain it to her peers in school and otherwise, but
she rarely revealed the subject matter of the work to her teachers at Tyler, or to her
earliest employers. She was quite fearful of, people knowing what it was that she was
making imagery of. And, of course, this is very early. This is the 1960’s. Not the 1970’s.
When it becomes more commonplace for women, particularly of the feminist art movement
to make imagery like this. She was also quite reticent to reveal what
she was making. The content of the work to the art world at large. She later observed
in 1974 that in the early ’60s- she says, In the early 60’s, I was scared to show my
work around because you were put down if you were making images of female genitalia. Her work and the complications surrounding
her revealing its contents to her teachers, her employees demonstrates some of the key
problems and paradoxes that feminist artists working later in the 1970’s would face, as
they argued against perceptions of gender and gendered roles through the use of clearly
gendered forms. Negotiating, through varied artistic and conceptual
concerns, Wilke was always adventurous, exceptionally adventurous, in her exploration of the sculpture
process. There was simply nothing that was out bounds for her in her search for malleable
materials. In the 1970’s, for example, she molded this raw bacon on a plate. On the right side you see one of many little,
Play-Doh folds that she created. Kind of emphasizing the playfulness, of her work. She made kind
of families of this. So this blue, basically it’s a round of blue, and white, and yellow
Play-Doh that she roles out and then turned into a fold. These are by far the most fragile objects
or the most fragile material that she worked in I think. We’ll talk about the latex in
a minute, but even more fragile than the latex. Of anything that on view in the exhibition
at the Neuberger right now, this is the piece that I most fear something happening to. They’re
just incredibly fragile. I mentioned the latex a minute ago. This is
one of the earliest materials that she worked in, this liquid latex. She would create small
folds out of the liquid latex. She would pour it over clay folds. She would pour it over
lengths of twine. She would pour it out on a plaster of Paris surface, and the plaster
of Paris would kind of suck some of the moisture out of it and make it easier to work with. Among the more unusual examples of the small
fold or teasel cushion (I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of that), but it’s a small
work from 1967 that she actually placed on top of artificial turf. Which was a very unusual
material for artists to be working with, at the time: something that emerged, in the early
1960s, and became popularized, as a substitute for grass, when it was installed in the Houston
Astrodome, for the first time in 1965. She would also create these very large wall
pieces, pouring the latex into rounds, bending it like clay, and, then, using snaps and pushpins,
to piece the objects together. Some of them are very large: “Centerfold”, for example,
an early latex work, was twelve feet high and five feet wide. Unfortunately, the latex formula that she
used, at first, was not stable. And, so, almost all of the latex pieces that she made up to
about 1974 have either disintegrated or become so fragile that they can no longer be exhibited. In ’75, she changed her formula, and “Vertical
Verde for Garcia-Lorca” is an example of one of the pieces from that period of time, based
on a stanza of a poem, by one of her favorite poets: Federico Garcia Lorca. And, so, this
is from 1975. And, then, “Rosebud”, which is on loan to Burning Down the House exhibition.
I think is also ’75. I think. 75, 76. 75, 76. So that also, survived, because it
is made from this new formula. She used a new formula of latex and, then, combined it
with liquitex, so that it would strengthen the latex and also, allow her to tint the
objects. Works like Rosebud, in particular, are kind of sensual, and fleshy. And, if you haven’t seen it, it’s out in the
right as you first walk in to the exhibition here. It has sort of soft petal-like folds,
which are very vulnerable in appearance. In 1972, the critic Douglas Crimp described the
early versions, of these very vulnerable looking objects as, not only vulnerable in their ability
to be undone/unsnapped, but also that they were sort of crying out to be touched. The vulnerability of Wilke’s work, which Crimp
observed, became particularly important to her artistic production. So, raw bacon would
rot. The thin rounds of Play-Doh could crack, under the slightest amount of pressure. She observed in 1975, the same year she began
to work with the new latex formula, quote “One strength of American art right now is
that we are involved in a culture that is about destructiveness. Some of the best art
has a planned obsolescence”. So, although she didn’t know that her earliest
latex pieces would fall apart, it was something that she not only endured but, eventually,
came to appreciate, as a critical part of her process. This idea of vulnerability, of potential violation
is a theme that runs through her body of work, particularly in objects that appear fragile,
easily torn, broken. It’s important to remember that she, Wilke, the artist, is always in
control, to a certain degree, of those objects that appear fragile of that violation. One of the ways that she explored this idea
was to start exhibiting work on the floor. She did this for the first time in an exhibition
in 1974, at Ronald Feldman Fine Art, called the Floor Show. This was one of the most unusual,
works that she exhibited in the Floor Show. You can see the installation shot in 1974,
and then recent photography of this work called Laundry Lint CO’s. That’s how it looks right
now in the Neuberger exhibition and the detail of one of the pieces in the upper right hand
corner. This is made, literally, from laundry lint,
nothing else, that she collected over the course of about two or three years from her
then partner Klaus Oldenburg’s dryer. She essentially followed the same methodology
that she had used from the other folded works, the clay works and whatever. She would essentially
fold flat lengths of this compressed laundry lint into objects. Then here, again, exhibiting
on the floor. They’re very kind of surprising when you look
at them and their material and how delicate they are. They give the appearance of being
very easily broken apart, very easily able to disintegrate and at the same time, they’re
remarkable for their color. They’ve got extraordinarily vivid color. If you think about laundry linen, the laundry
linen that comes out of your own dryer probably doesn’t always have this bright, beautiful
pink hue or yellow hue. Mine does not. It tends to be rather gray. So it’s remarkable that the lint looks the
way it does and it has what lint has in it. It has fibers and labels and hair and dust.
It is one of the ways in which she addressed feminist concerns. Because, of course, she’s
essentially seizing the garbage of women’s labor, doing the laundry, certainly what was
construed as women’s labor at that time, and converting it into this creative production. This is another piece that she showed, in
the Floor Show. 176 one-fold gestural sculptures. This is a group of sculptures that very in
size, from just over an inch to over five inches in width or length, placed in random
patterns on the floor. Some of the forms are open, some are closed, some are smooth, some
are very craggy. Together they create a kind of, sea of clay forms. It was first shown
as 176 one-fold gestural sculptures. Now it’s shown as 159 one-fold gestural sculptures.
Very, very vulnerable. Very like the Play-Doh, kind of frightening to a curator installing
in their exhibition space because it sits directly on the floor and you can walk right
up to it. It is a good demonstration of the way she turned to work that has that kind
of vulnerability, to it, or experimented with that. Another very unusual material she installed
on the floor in that exhibition was a long line of store bought fortune cookies. In the
70’s she began purchasing cookies. She would keep them in her studio and they
would sort of, according to her account, slowly disappear. Probably being taken by small creatures
that would come into the studio at night and borrow them or nibble on them. She saw the
cookies as being very related to the folds that she was making visually, conceptually.
They are also extremely, extremely fragile. The idea of buying store bought objects or
prefabricated objects and exhibiting them as her own work of art was, of course, a conceptual
act; something that we now term appropriation art, and clearly inspired by Duchamp, again,
who was, as I mentioned before, sort of touchstone for Wilke. Of course, some of his best known pieces-
his store bought urinal, his store bought bicycle wheel and stool- were works that he
sometimes modified, referred to as readymades. And really, what Wilke’s fortune cookies are,
are readymades in the spirit of Duchamp. Just some other materials that she worked
in. These are works made out of kneaded eraser. She not only loved work that was conceptually
challenging but also loved language and wordplay. Puns were staple of her work. She used…This is among her earliest uses
of wordplay, the kneaded eraser series, which she also exhibited in the floor show. She
would make these small, folded sculptures out of varying sized kneaded erasers, and
place them on square boards. The color of the erasers vary from work to work. The color
of kneaded erasers varied from eraser to eraser. Some were very, very tiny, only an eighth
of inch wide. Some are arranged in random patterns, as you can see in the work on the
left, number four, or arranged in the grid pattern, as you see in the work on the right. The kneaded erasers don’t dry. They are pliable
just like clay. They are typically used for the removal of graphite or charcoal or as
a method of subtractive drawing, in which the artist would actually use the eraser to
lighten or remove elements of drawing. They are unique, in that, they will absorb…unlike
other erasers, they will actually absorb the color of the thing that they are erasing.
So, they change color. They always stay the same size, but they will wear out from over
use, becoming less pliable and less absorbent. So she’s really shifting the use of a tool
for correction or subtraction to a tool of sculptural construction. And as she adopts
the kneaded eraser, she not only modifies its use but she also draws on it conceptually,
as she puns the word kneaded eraser. So, in the 1970’s, when she’s making this
work, the idea of erasure would have been particularly important those interested in
reinserting women into the art historical cannon. There’s also sort of the more personal
aspect of it, as referencing her experiences in romantic relationships. She used kneaded erasers in other ways. She
used them on postcards. As an example of just one of the postcards- Franklin’s tomb of 1976.
She used them on utensils. And here you see knife and fork, 1974, and
saucer and spoon of 1974, both of which are on view in the exhibition. The work on the
right, I believe, has not been shown before, so it’s exciting for us to have that piece
in the show. These are works that evoke surrealist objects,
and surrealism was something that was also very important to Wilke. And here, just an
example, I am showing you Meret Oppenheim’s object from 1936, this fur-lined cup, saucer
and spoon, which is the kind of object that would have influenced Wilke in her thinking
about the pieces at time. Kneading- whether it was kneading clay, needing
eraser was something to which she was clearly very devoted. Among the materials that she
eventually needed was her own skin. And this is a still from a video called Gestures from
1974. It was also included in the floor show. And you’re seeing a still and then photographic
stills into a series of photographs. On the right hand side, this is a 35 minute
video, 35 plus minute video, really one of her first uses of video. And here she manipulates her flesh in the
way that she manipulated all other malleable materials, really sculpting it into form.
So she would just sort of knead her face over, and over, and over again, creating different
gestures and different facial features and expressions. After Gestures she uses her body… She continued
to use her body as sculpture material. And this is a performance she did in 1974 called
Super-t-Art. It was part of a multimedia event held at
the kitchen in New York City where many, many artists were invited to give these kind of
two minute performances. And here you’re seeing stills from the performance. Super-t-Art was a pun on the title of the
event, Soup and Tart. A pun on the popular rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. That
the rock opera opened in 71 and was released as a film in 73, just the year before she
did this performance. For the performance, she stood on top of a
little pedestal draped with this white table cloth worn over her shoulder. And over the
course of the two minutes she struck a series of poses or tableaus, moving the cloth, her
torso, her limbs and her facial expression. Now she described this work as a transformation
from the Virgin Mary, in the upper left hand corner, to the crucified Christ in the lower
right hand corner. And you can see how she rolls up the materials so it creates a kind
of loincloth around her body in the final image that was taken from that performance. And so she’s queering ideas about the boundaries
of religion and faith and the body within the framework of Christianity. And at the same time, I think that this work
can be placed squarely within ancient Greek sculptural traditions, which is something
that’s not talked about with reference to Wilke’s work all that often. But at time that she produced this, she was
well aware of Greco-Roman sculpture. She had traveled to Greece, she had been to the British
Museum, which of course has many, many examples of Greek sculpture. She had been to the antiquities,
seen the antiquities in the original Getty Mansion during a trip to Los Angeles. Super-t-Art is particularly reminiscent to
my eye of Hellenistic traditions. And Wilke’s gestures in the performance and
in the stills that she chose from the performance to create the photographic version of the
event. Evoke a spirit of Hellenistic pathos in sculpture. And the Hellenistic world sought
the expression of emotions that were both transitory and fleeting. And in sculpture, those were rendered through
pantomimic gesture, pantomimic posing that were both dramatic and exaggerated. Those
were the kinds of gestures that Wilke’s creating in the Super-t-Art performance. So her use of what’s called pathos, what’s
called the pathetic approach, not in the way we think of pathetic now. But linking to the
word pathos was reinforced by her use of the drapery and in this case the white table cloth.
One of the things that Greek sculpture was most praised for was the way in which Greek
sculptors evoked what’s called empnoos, in their work and this was the idea of a sculpture
that was full of life or literally full of breath. This was a level of sculptural accuracy that
most all Greek sculpture aspired to. There was a kind of magic, to the sculptures where
a sculpture that appeared almost animated, lifelike, and here we see Wilke making these
life sculptures, these living sculptures. This is something that was highly, highly
praised among the Greek world. There was also ephratic writing about these sculptors. Meaning
writing in the arts about how these sculptures looked as though they were literally alive
and sometimes they required watchful eyes or required being chained to their pedestal
so they wouldn’t just leap up and run off. An often-cited example is a marble cow by
the sculptor Myron, which was on the Acropolis in Athens. According to descriptions of the cow, the
cow was so lifelike that shepherd boys would try to yoke it and calves would try to suckle
from it, bulls would try to mount it. There’s no particular evidence that Wilke was thinking
about this particular aspect of Greek sculpture when she made these works. But, there’s no
question that her use of the Greek tradition in thinking about the way she positioned her
body, and the way she used drapery. Is rooted in that tradition of the living sculpture,
the kind of Greco-Roman living sculpture. This was also tied to the way in which marble
Gods and Goddesses were treated. For example, on the left you’re looking at a votive that’s
reflective of the way the Athena Parthenos, would have looked like, and on the right is
the Aphrodite of Knidos. These are among the most renown representations of marble Gods
and Goddesses, who were treated like real human beings, and they were made offerings
to in their temples. They were literal inhabitants of their temples.
They were prayed to, they were adorned, they were provided offerings, sometimes ritualistically
bathed. In several of her living sculpture projects she transformed herself into a Goddess,
often the Goddess of love and beauty Venus, the Roman version of Aphrodite. This is a
recurrent theme throughout her work. She produced latex pieces in the early 70’s,
Venus basin, Venus cushion. For the Greek world, Aphrodite had multiple links to this
idea of a living sculpture. It was Aphrodite who, according to legend,
inspired the sculptor Pygmalion to fabricate his ideal woman out of ivory, naming her Galatea.
Pygmalion fell in love with his creation, prayed to Aphrodite, who then brought the
work to life. In the fourth century, Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos was so shocking. It so shocked Greek society because it was
one of the first life-size representations of the female nude. There is writing about
the Aphrodite of Knidos similar to the writing about the cow where she had very dewy eyes,
that marble created a kind of sensuality that hadn’t been seen in sculpture like this before. Wilke used the Venus figure in other life
sculpture projects that she did. One in an event called “Life Sculpture” that was orchestrated
by Lil Picard sculpture, now, in 1974, and another that same year, where she also posed
as Venus as a life sculpture in an event called “White Sheets and Quiet Dots”. And then one of her best known performance
on July 4th, 1976, she performed “My Country ’tis of Thee” at the Albright Knox Museum.
There were earlier versions of this. She performed at first a version of it for cable television
and at an artist’s rights exhibition in 1975; then at the Whitney, and another version of
this in 1976. And for the Buffalo Project, which is her
most fully formed version of the idea, she placed these three, 11 foot goddess photographs
of herself along the south facade of the museum in front four caryatids by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Albright Knox Museum being modeled after
the Erectheion in Greece. And, here, clearly she’s repeating patterns
that you can see. It’s hard to see in the image on the image, but she’s repeating patterns.
Let’s see, I think I have another… Yeah, you can see that she’s repeating the drapery
in the photographs that she has on the lower half of her body. That’s repeating the drapery
that the caryatids that the female figures that literary hold up the facade of the building
that they are also wearing. Then on the left hand side, you see her during
the “My Country ’tis of Thee, ” creating chew gum freeze. So she’s working on the sidewalk
with people walking by, lots of children and other people, where they would come and they
would chew gum and then she would form little sculptures out of it. Chewing gum being one
of her other signature materials that she worked with. She would take the chewed gum, create the
little sculptures, put them on rag board. And then you see how she arranged the rag
board around the building as a kind of a frieze. She observed that the frieze that she created
was a way in which to “put color back into the architecture.” And, of course, she’s referencing
the way in which ancient buildings, Greco-Roman buildings, which now appear white to us actually
were polychromatic when they were first made. The frieze is not only a way in which to embellish
the building, but also links through her love of language to a pun. And here’s she’s, of
course, punning the song, the traditional patriotic song my “My Country ’tis of Thee”. This is the July 4th, 1976. This is the Bicentennial.
And, of course, the founding of the United States was inspired by Greek ideology, and
the link between Greek ideology and American democracy was manifested in the importation
of Greek forms to our architecture in the United States in the 19th century. So if you think of the mall in the Washington,
that’s all this Greco-Roman form that all links back to the way…and the way of our
system of democracy links further back to Greek ideology. She is making a frieze that would essentially
take the place of narrative, on a Greek building. So the freeze is the place where you tell
the story of the building or tell out some other significant kind of story. Here she’s
forming a narrative out of these little sculptural folds, that she referred to as “cunt forms.
” Thus lending architectural and ideological form to her punning the word cuntry, and also
re-inscribing… Of course, you know, “My country tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died …” this is a gendered…it’s
a patriotically song. It’s a clearly a gendered song, but actually is a song that is derived
from a gender neutral song, which is: “God save the queen, or god save the king, ” depending
what ruler happens to be in…depending on the circumstances of monarchical rule. So she’s not only re-inscribing the female
into this whole patriotic system, but also into the anthem itself. Her version of “My Country ’tis of Thee” demonstrates
the ways in which she not only investigated the body as sculpture, but also queried cultural
constructions of female beauty. And her reliance on ancient Greco-Roman forms,
for example, played a critical role in the way she considered how beauty is defined and
viewed. And, of course, there’s the Greek formulation of perfection, of correct proportion,
is a canon that was also a gendered canon. It was based on the male body; the sort of
the perfect male body. And this is this place is in which she, Wilke,
uses her work to investigate the notion of perfect and the notion of perfection as a
gendered idea and as culturally inscribed. And if you look at these two images, a still
from “Super-t-Art” from 1974 and then one of the photographs from “Intra-Venus, ” you
can see how throughout her body of work she is considering these ideas. So the “Super-t-Art” image- she’s life, she’s
nude, with the exception of the fabric from the waist down and her shoes. By contrast,
in the “Intra-Venus” work, which is the last body of work that she does, where she effectively
documents her own death from lymphoma in 1933, she holds her hands up; she balances an urn
of flowers on head, striking the classical caryatid pose again. But this time the nude body is aged. The nude
body is bloated. Dressed not in a skirt or a tablecloth but covered by bandages near
her waist, protecting the wounds from her cancer treatments. And so, she is, again, positioning herself
as embodying the classical body, the body of Venus, but giving further revision to the
way in which she investigates the classical form, and again, queries this idea of the
cultural construction of perfection and the cultural construction of beauty. The chewing gum that she used in the performance
in 1976, she used that about a year and a half after the first time that she started
using chewing gum, which was for her “S.O.S.- Starification Object Series”. This is mastication box that she produced
in late 1974 for an exhibition called “Artist Make Toys, ” which was on view in January
1975. This is an exhibition that had many different
kinds of toys by variety of artists, including Mark di Suvero. Oldenburg exhibited in this
show with Trisha Brown and Jarred Bark. They made a four foot horse that opened up to reveal
a theatre inside. And then Red Grooms and other artists who participated in the show
made a giant wooden picture puzzle. Her box, the mastication box, had these unopened,
chewing gums of different kinds of flavors and brands. These tiny gum sculptures encased
in plexiglass boxes, playing cards, and these 28 of these little photographs that you see
in the lower right of her with gum. She’s in various poses with gum attached to her
body. By placing the gum on her body and then having
herself photographed for the mastication box she really made a kind of final collapse between
her body and her sculpture. She observed in an artist roundtable in 1975 ‘my chewing gum
sculpture is about me, my body and me. “I make body art where I put chewing gum sculptures
on my body. I become my art. My art becomes me.” It was from the mastication box that
several other works and ideas emerged. Here you see in 1975 she was invited to participate
in an exhibition in Paris. This wonderful description of what occurred when she went
there and did her performance with the chewing gum: ‘Wilke arrived with no less than 3, 000
pieces of brightly colored gum unavailable in Paris’. That’s true that the colors she was using
in her gum were only available in the United States. ‘And did a three hour performance
at the opening. Amid nonstop television cameras and flashing bulbs, she offered super cherry,
apple green, and chocolate flavored gum to the elegantly attired guests. The chewed pieces were either returned to
Wilke, who rapidly molded them into 120 sexual sculptures push-pinned to the wall or fastened
to the artist’s half-nude body’. So she saw the gum not only as a part of herself,
but also a part of the people who participate in the SOS project. She said people chew the
gum for me, I make an object from the chewed gum which contains remnants of their saliva
after the gum’s sweetness is removed. Part of their body was in the object, which was
later preserved on the paper as sculptural drawing. So it’s in this way that her body not only
becomes part of her art, but also the bodies of her audience. In the SOS project, ‘starification’ was a
pun on the word scarification. Throughout the course of her career she framed
the use of scarification in the SOS series in several ways. She linked the practice of
scarring to tattoo numbers with which Jews were marked in concentration camps. She observed, as a Jew, quote ‘I would have
been destroyed had I been born in Europe at that time’. She also related her scarification
with gum to the practice of African scarification, in which the body is incised with a sharp
tool to create patterning and to create gender stereotypes. She said, ‘I decorated my body relating to
the African scarification or to the caste system, or macho male photographs with cowboy
hats and guns or little uniforms, maid outfits and hair curlers. So they were psychological
poses that related to me as emotional wounds that we carry within us that really hurt us.’ These kinds of scars as they pertain to Jews
in the Holocaust or African culture were permanent modifications of the body that fixed a kind
of status of the scar, a kind of social status or status otherwise linked to female sexuality
indicating, particularly in African culture, stages of adolescence and puberty. In Wilke’s version, the scars are not fixed.
They are temporary. They can be removed at any time. The SOS series is often linked in the way
her own body was marked by her battle with lymphoma, and also the way in which her mother’s
body was marked through her battle with breast cancer. This is a work called In Memoriam:
So I’m A Better Mommy from 1979 to 1983. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer
in 1970, underwent a radical double mastectomy. As Wilke’s sister, Marcy Charlotte observed
to me, she said we were both devastated when she had the surgery. The surgery was on Hannah’s 30th birthday.
She said in those days a woman was put to sleep not knowing whether she would awaken
without a breast. Wilke didn’t often link the SOS series to her illness, at least not
to critics, really until later. It was really not until she started making
photographs of her mother after her mother suffered a stroke, that that prompted her
cancer to return that she began to link the SOS series to the way her mother’s body was
ravaged by her illness. The way in which her mother’s body had disintegrated, and then
later, the link being made to the way her own body would disintegrate from her own illness. Given her concerns with fragility and permanence,
changeability, disintegration it may seem, and it certainly did to me at first, illogical
that her sculpture practice was also largely concerned with monumental art, with public
art. Which is probably the least well-known aspect of her practice. At the same time she was, like most artists,
very concerned about her artistic legacy and focused, I think, far more attention on this
monumental public sculpture aspect of her work, than is known. She in 1978 and 1979 experimented in casting,
and foundry, while she was an artist in residence at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. It was
there she created bronze models as proposals for monumental sculptures. What I’m showing
you here, are some cast bronze folds that she created, while she was learning to work
in the foundry. Another example of a work that she produced
as a monumental sculpture, this is Color Fields monument for large sculpture at Federal Plaza,
of 1985. This is a work that was produced for an exhibition that called After Tilted
Arc- that was held at the store front for Art and Architecture in New York City in November,
1985. It was earlier that year that a Manhattan
jury ordered the removal of Richard Sara’s Serra’s 1981 Tilted Arc, which you see in
the bottom right-hand corner. The exhibition, according to the organizers,
was not intended to be critical of Sara or his sculpture. But rather to redirect the
argument surrounding the piece because the argument had become so heated and derisive
they really wanted to engage in a discussion about what is public art, what work can be
accepted and understood by the viewers? What is the artist’s responsibility? This is Wilke’s contribution to the exhibition,
these ten what would have been large-scale painting of colorful folds shown in a grid
pattern. Just a couple other examples of her interesting monumental sculpture. This is
a drawing for a proposal for a sculpture on a golf course. These had kind of a humorous side to them.
You can see the drawing on the right hand showing you the models for soft pyramids,
which are tiny, tiny little models made out of various materials, bronze, lead, these
are undated. So experimenting with what a golf course would
look like if she was given the opportunity to create her monumental sculpture on a golf
course. These are a group of five drawings that she
created in which she adorned advertisements for estate properties being marketed by this
high-end realtor with drawings for monumental sculpture. You can see on the right hand side she’s essentially
showing you what your big estate would be if you gave her the opportunity to build her
large sculpture on your front lawn or on your beach front property over on the left hand
side. In the largest drawing in the series, the
one in the center, she quotes a passage from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, which was published
in 1867 as a criticism of the way in which capitalism had redefined commodities from
the purchase and sale of goods to the purchase and sale of labor. This is something, this idea of exchange values,
something that she addressed over and over throughout her body of work, this idea of
using Marx’s name as a pun. She’s punning his name, she leaving her own marks on the
estate. Also sort of querying her role as a laborer,
as an artist who is marketed and who has to market her work. In conclusion, making her mark on the landscape,
on her body, and clay bake, and Play-Doh. Hannah Wilke was always concerned with the
sculptural quality of her work. It was, I believe, always an underlying theme, and methodology
that permeated almost, everything that she did From her earliest sculpture all the way
through her final series, the Intra-Venus works. Thank you very much. Is there time for questions? I’d be happy
to answer questions, or stay a minute after. Did she ever realize any monumental… sculpture? No, I should have put that in the beginning.
It’s a very good question. Not as far as I know. Although I have been asked if maybe
the Neuberger would like to pay for that. I don’t think the Neuberger would like to
pay for that, but it has come up. Are there any proposals that they would like
to support? Anyone else? Thank you very much. No, I have a question still. It’s not sculpture-specific,
but I was wondering why she changed her name, that Wilke was not her actual name. Well, Wilke was her married name from her
first husband and Hannah was her middle name. Her given name as Arlene Hannah Butter, and
she did kind of work with that name, Butter, because butter can be easily spread. She writes
about that. My son’s in the room now, so I’m not going to go any further. Anything else? I’d like to thank Tracy for venturing out
on the eve of her new son’s arrival. Well, not the actual eve I hope. The metaphorical
eve. The metaphorical eve. And for the information
and bringing to life and to light some more dimensions, I think, of Hannah Wilke and her
artwork. Steven Sollins, who is a male feminist artist
who is in this show, Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection, here at
the center, is going to be lecturing here at the forum at seven o’clock. Next Saturday, December 13, Gloria Steinem
is moderating Sex Trafficking: the New Abolitionists with a wonderful panel and it will be in the
Cantor auditorium, on the third floor We’re going to have then a reception here at the
center immediately afterward. Sunday the 14th, here in the forum. Jennifer
Cody Epstein is going to be here reading from, and discussing her novel The Painter from
Shanghai. Again, I thank you very much, Tracy, and thank
you all for being here this afternoon and enjoy the day.


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