press release

In 1995, Nikolaj (the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center) exhibited American artist Hannah Wilke's last project, Intra-Venus. The exhibition consisted of photographs taken in the last period of her life, while she was suffering from cancer. In connection with this, the desire grew to hold a major retrospective of this artist who created a spectacular and complex production from the 1960s, through the early '90s, significance.

The retrospective exhibition of Hannah Wilke's work, was its first major presentation in Europe. It consists of about 80 works: sculptures in clay, latex, chewing-gum and kneaded eraser, as well as photographs, sketches, water-colours and video.

As a young artist in the early '60s, Hannah Wilke worked with Surrealist and Abstract-Expressionist inspiration towards an organic idiom in drawing and sculpture. Her establishment of a female experiential space began at an early stage. In their exploration of the outside/inside dichotomy, her sculptures became containers or bodies, usually with obvious female characteristics. This iconic imagery forms the foundation of Hannah Wilke's lifelong work, not only with ceramic sculpture but also with unconventional materials.

For Hannah Wilke, the '70s meant not only the introduction of new sculptural materials, but also the extension of the field of art to embrace the body itself and the social field. Hannah Wilke used her own body in her so-called Performalist Self-Portraits, in which she acts/overacts her own role as a woman. The photographs from that period can be philosophically provocative, humorous or ironic, while always representing the ideal of the beautiful woman.

Hannah Wilke's working methods remain the same, but the woman is radically altered in the late Intra-Venus self-portraits, where the provocation now arises from the shock of being confronted with an undeniable state of illness, evidence of the strength and consistency of Hannah Wilke's artistic activities.

Hannah Wilke's artistic point of departure is the body. But her work is also concerned with language, with the word, which interferes with the visual image. Her titles are integrated parts of her works and many of her pictures are provided with well-turned puns that plunge the observer through various layers of meaning.

Hannah Wilke's artistic works are to a unique degree interlinked through a network of cross-references, which make the greater part of her output seem almost a single work. It is a work which, in its complexity, richness and generosity, exerts an increasing degree of fascination and sense of operatic fatefulness on its observers.

In the '70s, Hannah Wilke's exhibition of her (beautiful) body was considered controversial by feminist colleagues, and it is reflective of the times that her art is not more widely known. Today, when feminist and artistic strategies have changed, when play with roles and attitudes has become almost the norm, when humour and exaggeration are frequently used tools and, not least, when art relates itself to its social context, Hannah Wilke's work has found new significance.

This exhibition was arranged by Nikolaj in collaboration with Helsinki City Art Museum, the Estate of Hannah Wilke and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.


Hannah Wilke (retrospective)