The Arty Semite

Drawing Eros, Darkly

By Jessica Loudis

  • Print
  • Share Share
Hannah Wilke, Untitled, early 1960s. Charcoal and ink on paper. Courtesy Helen and Donald Goddard and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

In the 1960s, Hannah Wilke caught the attention of the New York art scene and shocked the public with her frank and sexual sculptures, which forced viewers to confront the body as a site of pleasure and eroticism, death and decay. Wilke is now best known for her “vulva sculptures,” (a body of work readers can explore on their own) but in all of the media that she worked in — drawing, photography, performance, and perhaps most famously, chewing gum — Wilke offered up the naked body as a challenge, directing the shame that’s often associated with it toward the embarrassed spectator.

The political charge of Wilke’s career isn’t immediately apparent from the work in “Early Drawings,” an exhibit on view until October 30 at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, but it is present. (Several of Wilke’s pieces are also included in the “Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism” exhibit, currently on view at the Jewish Museum.) Viewers entering the show, which highlights Wilke’s drawing from the 1960s and ‘70s, are met with several walls of collage work and line drawings — muted geometric designs that emanate from cutout pictures of puppies and saints. Some of these are clearly tongue-in-cheek; in one series, canvases are carved up into light pastel patterns set against retro imagery. Others, like “Stanley Landsman,” a photo homage to the light and glass sculptor, and “This Was Once My Mother’s Plate,” a simple ghostly tracing, quietly incorporate Wilke’s personal history.

While the curators decided to put Wilke’s more accessible pieces in the front, walking into the back of the gallery reveals a parallel trend in her art. Darker, more primitive drawings are on display here, and the measured restraint of previous canvases gives way to sketches reminiscent of abstract expressionism and Anselm Kiefer, or in several instances, large hairy insects. These pieces stick to Wilke’s preferred themes — geometric patterns, suggestively anatomical shapes — but also experiment with them. The shapes here are bulkier and more menacing, deliberately masking the skill of composition behind the intensity of raw emotion.

The show is not organized chronologically (Wilke didn’t date or title most of the pieces), and the gallery’s second room is mostly given over to her crayon drawings. Many of these are childlike in form and sexual in content, overtly depicting the phalluses and free-floating body parts that are only hinted at in the beginning of the show. Opposite these drawings are three of the exhibition’s most stylistically incongruous pieces: “Crucifixion Complex” (1978), an alphabet soup of religiously-themed wordplay, flanked by two versions of “Left-Wing Angel,” an image of a winged woman (possibly the artist) that’s most striking for its realism.

These last three pieces, while markedly different from the rest of the drawings, establish the context for what I took to be the exhibit’s closing piece: “Criminal Fingerprint Record” (1977) — two photos of ink-stained fingers framed above an official government document. The form, which includes Wilke’s address and identifying information, jolts the viewer out of one kind of abstraction and confronts her with another, equally shocking exposure. After developing a familiarity with Wilke’s drawings, it’s to the curators’ credit that they allow her a final and unexpected word.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ronald Feldman Gallery, Jewish Museum, Hannah Wilke, Feminism, Exhibits, Anselm Kiefer, Visual Art

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.