Hannah Wilke - Photographs New York Tuesday, October 1, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Feldman Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century, Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection, Saint Louis Art Museum, 23 September 1997– 11 January 1998

  • Literature

    D.A.P/Distributed Art Publishers, Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century, Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection, back cover, pl. 67, this print
    Prestel, Hannah Wilke, p. 49
    Wilke, Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective, n.p.
    The Museum of Modern Art, Cindy Sherman, fig. 5

  • Catalogue Essay

    Hannah Wilke once explained, 'As an American girl born with the [surname] Butter. . . I was often confused when I heard what it was like to be used, to be spread, to feel soft, to melt in your mouth.' While the artist assumed her then-husband’s name in 1960, this early identifier and fascination with transmutation and malleability of form persisted, and influenced the bold work which followed. Together with her contemporaries Judy Chicago, Annette Messager and Cindy Sherman, Wilke’s approach helped to usher in the crucial first wave of feminist art in the 1960s and 1970s. Her pioneering work is widely recognized today for its vast exploration of sexuality, feminism, consumption and desire, of which the present lot is among the finest examples.

    In her renowned 'performalist self-portraits,' S.O.S. Starification Object Series, Wilke applied pieces of chewing gum molded and folded into vaginal forms onto her semi-nude body. S.O.S. began in 1974 as an initial group of 28 images, including the present lot, before expanding to approximately 50 images at the series’ conclusion in 1982. Across S.O.S., Wilke poses against a white background and presents herself within the visual language of fashion photography, assuming both the look and attitude of high fashion models. Here, pairing a suggestive, over-the-shoulder gaze with hair curlers, Wilke begins to subvert conventional western depictions of beauty and the objectification of the female body. This subversion is fully realized by the addition of the chewing gum which she positions across her face and, in other works from the series, across her body. These forms become physical aberrations, simultaneously resembling jewels, blemishes, scars, stigmata, and vestigial vulvas. Further, these visual disruptions have also been regarded as a reference to the numeric tattoos given to Holocaust victims, causing the ‘Star’ in Starification to take on weighted significance.

    Wilke’s experimentation with these anthropomorphic shapes began as early as 1959 when she was a student at Temple University and continued in an array of media—sculpture, performance, and photography—throughout her career. Though initially created from molded grey erasers, she found that the material qualities of chewing gum, with its softer texture and flesh-like pink tones, better aligned with the corporal nature of the S.O.S. series. And the choice was also a sociopolitical one: 'I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman,' Wilke wrote, 'chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece.' Indeed, if the initial choice of erasers was a play on the idea of ‘erasing her,’ as Wilke alludes to in her letter in Art: A Woman's Sensibility, the substitution of chewed gum was its own play on the evolution of the idea: don’t erase her; instead, use her for your own enjoyment and discard her. It is this blunt confrontation with the objectification of women that makes Wilke’s S.O.S. series just as powerful today as it was at the time of its making.

    Referenced in the title of this print is Les Wollam who worked with Wilke and took the photographs of her performance.

The Feminist Thread: Photographs from the Collection of Helen Kornblum


S.O.S. Starification Object Series (Performalist Self-Portrait with Les Wollam)

Gelatin silver print.
40 x 26 3/8 in. (101.6 x 67 cm)
Signed, dated and numbered 'AP 1/2' in pencil on the reverse of the flush-mount.

Despite this print being numbered 'AP 1/2' by the artist, no formal edition of this print was ever produced, and these large-format works remain incredibly rare to the market. In addition to the print on offer, it is believed that only one other print of the image exists in this format. That print is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

$180,000 - 280,000 

Sold for $225,000

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New York Auction 1 October 2019