Critics’ Picks

Spread from the Marianne Wex book Let’s Take Back Our Space (Frauenliteratur Verlag Hermine Fees, 1984).

Portland

Marianne Wex

Yale Union (YU)
780 SE 10th Ave.
October 12 - December 15

From 1972 to 1977, German Conceptualist Marianne Wex compiled an index of masculine and feminine body language, sourced from more than 5,000 surveillance-style photographs taken in her then hometown of Hamburg, as well as images from magazines, art history, and television. This archive of material was then sorted by gender, posture, and body part and displayed as drily as court evidence: Wex pasted the image groups to large cardboard panels, assigning a number to each image, and housed them in plastic sleeves. This mundane presentation seems designed to minimize any aesthetic distraction from its contents, which repeatedly demonstrate how typical feminine comportment occupies less space than its masculine counterpart.

At YU, where the panels have been exhibited in the US for the first time, these arrangements stretch across entire walls, with images of men pointedly appearing above those of women. In the grouping titled “Sitting: Leg and Feet Positions,” Wex presents hundreds of images of men with uniformly open posture, from pictures of anonymous commuters to a snapshot of a spread-eagle Hermann Hesse. Beneath, as many images of women evince contained posture, full of pressed-together knees and pinched shoulders.

This work shares many affinities with that of Pictures Generation artists, especially their use of appropriation as critique, though Wex’s panels occasionally echo the clinical inquiry of a sociological study. Still, almost in spite of themselves, Wex’s arrangements possess an unexpected aesthetic charge: In the hundreds of black-and-white photographs, the artist’s meticulous sequencing creates a sense of animate motion. In that sense, “Sitting” resembles stills from a mundane film of a single man and woman, unconsciously shifting their bodies as they wait for their trains to arrive. Of course, that these images of individuals could so easily be flattened into types only confirms Wex’s observations of how homogeneously we embody the strictures of patriarchy.