When asked why she used bubblegum to represent labias, the late feminist artist Hannah Wilke answered with a response as iconic as her work:
“I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman—chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece.”
Innovative throughout her life, Wilke is considered the first feminist artist to use vaginal imagery in her work. Her groundbreaking labias made of everything from bubblegum, kneaded erasers, lint, and ceramics were stuck onto her body, in flowers, on postcards, and in landscapes, subverting phallocentric culture and turning penis envy into what Wilke termed “Venus envy.”
Having passed away prematurely in 1993 at the age of 52, Hannah Wilke: Sculpture in the Landscape at Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art presents a rare opportunity to experience a previously unknown body of Hannah Wilke’s work.
On view through July 12, 2019, these never-before-seen photographs are the result of a close collaboration with the Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles. Directed by Wilke’s sister, Marsie Scharlatt, the archive produced these photographs from a series of negatives Wilke took while in Los Angeles and New York throughout the early 1970’s.
They include works from her Gum in Landscape series, as well as prints of her ceramic and bronze sculpture maquettes.
This exhibition is part of Temple Contemporary’s unique ongoing program, “Tyler Mentors,” which develops working relationships between Tyler School of Art’s distinguished alumni and recent graduates.
The Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive selected recent Tyler graduate Lauren Rosenblum (class of 2012) as an emerging scholar whose research on the history of feminist art practice and landscape were an ideal match for Wilke.
Rosenblum’s research for the exhibition’s catalog essay, “Before her Landscape, a Backdrop for Hannah Wilke’s California Series,” included a trip to Los Angeles to visit Wilke’s archives and consult with Wilke’s family.
“Hannah Wilke had a vision of feminist sculpture in the landscape to restore the Feminine Principle and create gender balance,” says Marsie Scharlatt, founder of the Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive and Hannah’s sister. “Her hope was that they would create a powerful, recognizable, enduring female presence in the actual world.”
Hannah Wilke: Art in the Landscape runs until July 12, 2019 at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.
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