Wilke in her work S.O.S. — Starification Object Series (1974)
Arlene Hannah Butter|
March 7, 1940
New York City, New York
January 28, 1993 (aged 52)|
New York City, New York
|Education||Stella Elkins Tyler School of Fine Art, Temple U, Philadelphia|
|Known for||Sculpture, photography, body art, video art|
S.O.S. — Starification Object Series (1974)|
|Awards||NEA Grants in sculpture and performance, Guggenheim Grant for sculpture|
Hannah Wilke (born Arlene Hannah Butter; March 7, 1940 – January 28, 1993) was an American painter, sculptor, photographer, video artist and performance artist. Wilke's work is known for exploring issues of feminism, sexuality and femininity.
Hannah Wilke was born on March 7, 1940 in New York City to Jewish parents; her grandparents were Eastern European immigrants. In 1962, she received a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Bachelor of Science in Education from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia. She taught art in several high schools and joined the faculty of the School of Visual Arts, New York, where she taught sculpture and ceramics from 1974–1991. From 1969 to 1977, Wilke was in a relationship with the American Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg, and they lived, worked and traveled together during that time. Wilke's work was exhibited nationally and internationally throughout her life and continues to be shown posthumously. Solo exhibitions of her work were first shown in New York and Los Angeles in 1972. Her first full museum exhibition was held at the University of California, Irvine, in 1976, and her first retrospective at the University of Missouri in 1989. Posthumous retrospectives were shown in Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Malmo, Sweden in 2000 and at the Neuberger Museum of Art from 2008 to 2009. Since her death, Wilke's work has been shown in solo gallery shows, group exhibitions, and several surveys of women's art, including WACK! (www.moca.org) and Elles (www.pompidou.fr).
Wilke first gained renown with her "vulval" terra-cotta sculptures in the 1960s. Her sculptures, first exhibited in New York in the late 1960s, are often mentioned as some of the first explicit vaginal imagery arising from the women's liberation movement, and they became her signature form which she made in various media, colors and sizes, including large floor installations, throughout her life. Some of her mediums included clay, chewing gum, kneaded erasers, laundry lint and latex. The use of unconventional materials is typical of feminist art, because traditionally women did not have access to art supplies. These sculptures were an innovative example of eroticism using a style that combined post-minimalism and feminist aesthetics. A consummate draftswoman, Wilke created numerous drawings, beginning in the early 1960s and throughout her life. In a review of Wilke's drawings at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in 2010, Thomas Micchelli writes in The Brooklyn Rail: "at her core, she was a maker of things […] an artist whose sensuality and humor are matched by her formal acumen and tactile rigor." She performed live and videotaped performance art, beginning in 1974 with Hannah Wilke Super-t-Art, a live performance at the Kitchen, New York, which she also made into an iconic photographic work. The performance art Wilke did evokes the likes of Simone Forti, Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer. The sculptural art Wilke created, with its unconventional materials and feminist narratives also relates to the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Alina Szapocznikow and Niki de St Phalle.
In 1974, Wilke began work on her photographic body art piece S.O.S — Starification Object Series in which she merged her minimalist sculpture and her own body by creating tiny vulval sculptures out of chewing gum and sticking them to herself. She then had herself photographed in various pin-up poses, providing a juxtaposition of glamour and something resembling tribal scarification. Wilke has related the scarring on her body to an awareness of the Holocaust. These poses exaggerate and satirize American cultural values of feminine beauty and fashion and also hint at an interest in ceremonial scarification. The 50 self-portraits were originally created as a game, "S.O.S.Starificaion Object Series: An Adult Game of Mastication", 1974–75, which Wilke made into an installation that is now in the Centre Pompidou, Paris. She also performed this piece publicly in Paris in 1975, having audience members chew the gum for her before she sculpted them and placed them on papers that she hung on the wall. Wilke also used colored chewing gum as a medium for individual sculptures, using multiple pieces of gum to create a complex layering representing the vulva.
Wilke coined the term "performalist self-portraits" to credit photographers who assisted her, including her father (First Performalist Self-Portrait, 1942–77) and her sister, Marsie (Butter) Scharlatt (Arlene Hannah Butter and Cover of Appearances, 1954–77). The title of Wilke's photographic and performance work, So Help Me Hannah, 1979, was taken from a vernacular phrase from the 1930s and '40s and has been interpreted as playing off of the Jewish mother stereotype and referencing Wilke's relationship with her mother.
Besides Hannah Wilke Super-t-Art, 1974, other well-known performances in which Wilke used her body include Gestures, 1974; Hello Boys, 1975; Intercourse with… (audio installation) 1974–1976; Intercourse with... (video) 1976; and Hannah Wilke Through the Large Glass performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1977.
Death and Intra-Venus
Hannah Wilke died in 1993 from lymphoma. Her last work, Intra-Venus (1992–1993), is a posthumously published photographic record of her physical transformation and deterioration resulting from chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant. The photographs, which were taken by her husband Donald Goddard whom she had lived with since 1982 and married in 1992 shortly before her death, confront the viewer with personal images of Wilke progressing from midlife happiness to bald, damaged, and resigned. Intra-Venus mirrors her photo diptych Portrait of the Artist with Her Mother, Selma Butter, 1978–82, which portrayed her mother's struggles with cancer and "having literally incorporated her mother, illness and all." Intra-Venus was exhibited and published posthumously partially in response to Wilke's feelings that clinical procedures hide patients as if dying was a "personal shame".
The Intra Venus works also include watercolor Face and Hand drawings, Brushstrokes, a series of drawings made from her own hair and the Intra Venus Tapes, a 16-channel videotape installation.
Pose and narcissism
In her work, Hannah Wilke often features herself as a posing glamour model. Her use of self in photography and performance art, however, has been interpreted as a celebration and validation of Self, Women, the Feminine, and Feminism. Conversely, it has also been described as an artistic deconstruction of cultural modes of female vanity, narcissism and beauty.
Wilke referred to herself as a feminist artist from the beginning. The art critic Ann-Sargent Wooster said that Wilke's identification with the feminist movement was confusing because of her beauty — her self-portraitures looked more like a Playboy centerfold than the typical feminist nudes. According to Wooster,
The problem Wilke faced in being taken seriously is that she was conventionally beautiful and her beauty and self-absorbed narcissism distracted you from her reversal of the voyeurism inherent in women as sex objects. In her photographs of herself as a goddess, a living incarnation of great works of art or as a pin-up, she wrested the means of production of the female image from male hands and put them in her own.
If critics found Wilke's beauty an impediment to understanding her work, this changed in the early 1990s when Wilke began documenting the decay of her body ravaged by lymphoma. Wilke's use of self-portraiture has been explored in detail in writing about her last photographic series, Intra Venus.
Wilke once answered the critics who commented on her body being too beautiful for her work by saying “People give me this bullshit of, ‘What would you have done if you weren’t so gorgeous?’ What difference does it make? ... Gorgeous people die as do the stereotypical ‘ugly.’ Everybody dies.”
During her lifetime, Wilke was widely exhibited, and although controversial, received critical praise. However, until recently, museums were hesitant to acquire work by women artists who, including Wilke, engaged in protests decrying their lack of inclusion during the feminist movement of the 1970s. Wilke's work, with its confrontational use of female sexuality and the fact that it does not fit into a distinct genre or style, was in very few permanent collections when she was alive. Since her death, Wilke's work has been acquired into the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and in European museums such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
1972, American Women Artists, Hamburg, Germany
1973, Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1977, Contemporary Women: Consciousness and Content, Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York
1980, American Women Artists 1980, Museu de Arte Contemporanea, São Paulo
1988, Modes of Address: Language in Art Since 1960, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1993, Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1995, Action/Performance and the Photograph, Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, Oberlin (travelling exhibition)
1997, Identity Crisis: Self-Portraiture at the End of the Century, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
2002, Tableaux Vivants, The Art of ‘LivingPictures’ in Photography, Film, and Video, Kunsthalle Wein, Vienna
2003, Pulse: Art, Healing and Transformation, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
2007, I Am Making Art: 4 Studies of the Artist’s Body, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva
1976, Fine Arts Gallery, University of California, Irvine
1978, PS1, Long Island, New York
1979, Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, DC
1989, Gallery 210, University of Missouri, St Louis
1994, Intra-Venus, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York (traveling exhibition displaying photographs set out like the Stations of the Cross, showing her personal confrontation with her own death)
2014, Hannah Wilke, Sculpture: 1960s-80s, Alison Jacques Gallery, London
She received a Creative Artists Public Service Grant (1973); National Endowment for the Arts Grants (1987, 1980, 1979, 1976); Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grants (1992, 1987); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1982), and an International Association of Art Critics Award (1993).
Museum and Gallery Holdings
- Brooklyn Museum
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
- Des Moines Art Center
- Tate Modern, London, England
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain
- Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN
- Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
- Jewish Museum, New York, NY
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
- Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH
- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
- Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
- David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI
- Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV
- Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
- Smith, Roberta (1994-01-30). "ART VIEW; An Artist's Chronicle Of a Death Foretold". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
- "Hannah Wilke". Oxford Art Online. Archived from the original on 2016-12-30.
- Princenthal, Nancy (February 1997). "Mirror of Venus — photography, videos and performance art, Hannah Wilke, Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York, New York". Art in America. 85 (2): 92–93. Archived from the original on 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
- "Hannah Wilke: Biography, Exhibitions, Awards, HWCALA". Archived from the original on May 28, 2008. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
- Marsie Scharlatt, "Hannah in California," in Hannah Wilke: Selected Work, 1963-1992, Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles, and SolwayJones, Los Angeles, 2004.
- Tracy Fitzpatrick, "Making Myself into a Monument," Gestures, Neuberger Museum of Art, 2009
- Nancy Princenthal, Hannah Wilke, Prestel Publishing, 2010
- "EXHIBITIONS". Archived from the original on January 25, 2011. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
- Buszek, Maria Elena (2006). "Our Bodies/Ourselves". Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture. Duke University Press. pp. 291–294. ISBN 0-8223-3746-0.
- Tracy Fitzpatrick, Gestures, Neuberger Museum of Art, 2009
- Schapiro, Miriam (1977–78). "Waste Not Want Not". Heresies 1. no. 4: 153.
- Middleman, Rachel (2013). "Rethinking Vaginal Iconology with Hannah Wilke's Sculpture". Art Journal.
- Micchelli, Thomas (October 2010). "HANNAH WILKE Early Drawings". The Brooklyn Rail.
- Wacks, Debra; Goldman, Saundra; Fischer, Alfred M.; Cottingham, Laura (Summer 1999). "Naked Truths: Hannah Wilke in Copenhagen". Art Journal. College Art Association. 58 (2): 104–106. doi:10.2307/777953. JSTOR 777953.
- Dick, Leslie. "Hannah Wilke". X-TRA. 6 (4). Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
- Tierney, Hanne (January 1996). "Hannah Wilke: The Intra-Venus Photographs". Performing Arts Journal. 18 (1): 44–49. JSTOR 3245813.
- Jones, Amelia (1998). "The Rhetoric of the Pose: Hannah Wilke". Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 189. ISBN 0-8166-2773-8.
- Vine, Richard (May 1994). "Hannah Wilke at Ronald Feldman — New York, New York — Review of Exhibitions". Art in America. Archived from the original on 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
- "Hannah Wilke Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works". The Art Story. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- Joanna Frueh, "Hannah Wilke," in Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective, University of Missouri Press, 1989.
- Arlene Raven,"The Eternal Hannah Wilke," in Hannah Wilke: Selected Works, 1963-1992, Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles and SolwayJones, Los Angeles
- Toepfer, Karl (September 1996). "Nudity and Textuality in Postmodern Performance". Performing Arts Journal. 18 (3): 82–83. JSTOR 3245676.
- Jones (1998), pp.151-152.
- Wooster, Ann-Sargent (Fall 1990). "Hannah Wilke: Whose Image is it anyway". High Performance.
- Amelia Jones, "Hannah Wilke's Feminist Narcissism," Intra Venus, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 1994.
- "Everybody Dies...Even the Gorgeous: Resurrecting the Work of Hannah Wilke" (PDF).
- Nancy Princenthal, Hannah Wilke, Prestel, 2010
- "Hannah Wilke Art in Selected Public Collections".
- "Intra-Venus". feldmangallery.com. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Hannah Wilke (retrospective) | www.nikolajkunsthal.dk". www.nikolajkunsthal.dk. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Works | HANNAH WILKE: SCULPTURE 1960s – '80s". Alison Jacques Gallery. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Brooklyn Museum: Hannah Wilke". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Untitled, from the Hannah Wilke Monument | Albright-Knox". www.albrightknox.org. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism – Works – Des Moines Art Center". emuseum.desmoinesartcenter.org. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- Tate. "Hannah Wilke 1940-1993 | Tate". Tate. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Hannah Wilke | LACMA Collections". collections.lacma.org. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Wilke, Hannah". www.museoreinasofia.es. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "Teasel Cushion". walkerart.org. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- "U.S.S. Missouri". artgallery.yale.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "The Jewish Museum". thejewishmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Collection". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "S.O.S. Starification Object Series (Back)". Guggenheim. 1974-01-01. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Whitney Museum of American Art: Hannah Wilke". collection.whitney.org. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "eMuseum". allenartcollection.oberlin.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Hannah Wilke | Centre Pompidou". Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Hannah Wilke | Princeton University Art Museum". artmuseum.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Search the Collection | David Winton Bell Gallery". www.brown.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
- "Hannah Wilke, Mountain Creek".
- Hannah Wilke artist website
- Nancy Princenthal, Hannah Wilke (Prestel USA, 2010)
- ! Woman art revolution, Documentary trailer shows rare footage of Wilke speaking in 1991, less than two years before her death. The trailer also shows examples of her Intra-Venus series: portraits of her body ravaged by lymphoma.