New York

Hannah Wilke

Ronald Feldman Gallery

Causing more commotion than was warranted or necessary, Hannah Wilke unfortunately felt she had to get on the bandwagon of artists’ “nudie” pin-ups with a vulgarly accessorized (i.e. unzipped blue jeans, hair curlers, etc.) rendering of her semi-nude flesh in 28 photographs from the S.O.S. Mastication Box, a 1975 performance at the Galerie Gerald Piltzer, Paris. Wilke’s act of physical display resembles Robert Morris’s and Lynda Benglis’s erotic publicity, but it is also a record, à la Acconci, Oppenheim, etc. of the ways she “crudded up” her “perfect flesh” with her personal portable leprosy, chewing gum, masticated and applied to various parts of her anatomy. In this piece she uses herself as both the subject and the support in much the same way she uses picture postcards as the base for her application of kneaded rubber eraser shapes.

But, all this peep-show hoopla detracts from the major transformations occurring in her work. Wilke’s pieces, made from thin poured latex shapes fastened together with metal snaps, have become slightly smaller in scale than those in the past. They are compressed into an ombre-toned column formed into points on a pastel-hued wall grid, or have been compacted into a single horizontal mass. They have lost much of their female erotic imagery. Ceasing to be juicy “Venus basins,” they have become cabbages rooted in more generalized organic motifs.

The one genuine surprise in the show was a series of miniature sculptures, each one mounted on a separate sheet of heavy paper and hung touching each other on the wall. One is not accustomed to unpainted sculpture being so brightly hued. Wilke’s assumption of a palette composed of colored chewing gum—teaberry, licorice, grape, lemon, blueberry, etc. is a startling concept. Drawing attention to the color of a substance which one normally thinks of as having no color and which is invisible because it is encountered either wrapped or in the mouth, she transforms it into an art material. Like some three-dimensional Morse code, which relies on color rather than dots and dashes to convey its information, the sculptures are an overall network of tiny excrescences of color. All of Wilke’s forms are variations on the basic labia, but in this piece she lessens their erotic intent through her careful manipulation of color within individual sculptures and through their relationship to each other within the larger system of the work as a whole. Encoded within the work is the idea that there is something extremely sexual, ironic and bittersweet about chewing-gum sculpture of female sexual organs.

Ann-Sargent Wooster