Martha Wilson

Martha Wilson

Curated by Martha Wilson and presenting venue's curator

Martha Wilson’s career, spanning forty years, encapsulates the contestations inherent in feminist and socially engaged practices. In her work and throughout her life, Wilson has explored how identity and positioning are not just self-defined or projected, but also negotiated. The complex nature of her work encompasses her activities as an artist, creating conceptually-based performances, videos, and photo-text compositions since the early 1970s; her position as the founder and director of the non-profit space Franklin Furnace; her collaboration with other women to form the group, DISBAND; and her key role in jump-starting the activist feminist art group, the Guerrilla Girls. Wilson’s attitude to collaboration and openness to constantly redefining both personal and collective identities make her a central figure with which to collaborate on producing a series of exhibitions that selectively mine the various experimental practices, writings and shifting perspectives to explore current attitudes toward feminism, activism, and collaborative practice.

Written into and out of art history according to the theories and convictions of the time, Wilson first gained attention through Lucy Lippard, who contextualized her early work within the parameters of conceptual practice as well as among other women artists. A year later, in 1974, Wilson was denounced by Judy Chicago after a performance organized by Womanspace in Los Angeles for “irresponsible demagoguery.” She has also been regarded by many as prefiguring some of Judith Butler’s ideas on gender perfomativity though her practice, and more recently, in the words of the art critic, Holland Cotter, she was described as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970’s.”

This exhibition has been conceived to facilitate intensive collaborations between the curator(s) at each presenting institution and Martha Wilson. Working from the foundation of objects selected first by curator Peter Dykhuis in conversation with Wilson, each new curator is invited to select from this initial body of works, which provide an overview of the three overlapping stages of Wilson’s career, including a) explorations of her early solo photographic work; b) performance activities in New York, and c) thirty projects drawn from the Franklin Furnace archive, including a rich and compact body of documentation (videos, photographs, announcements, publications, and flyers) of projects by Eric Bogosian, Willie Cole, Jenny Holzer, Tehching Hsieh, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Ana Mendieta, Shirin Neshat, Dan Perjovschi, William Pope.L, Martha Rosler, and William Wegman, among many others.

Martha Wilson will work with curators of the presenting institutions to further explore ways in which identity and contested histories can be presented in the context of their local constituencies and according to each venue’s programming priorities. Martha will go to the institutions, work with the curator to select works from her own history and that of Franklin Furnace, as well as selecting works from the museum’s collection, or archive, or working with people in that community to develop an exhibition that explores the nature of visibility, or of what feminism means now, or the role of activist, socially engaged practice; the thematic focus will be determined by the local curator in discussion with Wilson. The size of each presentation will depend on space allotted by each venue, and works to be included will result from the conversations and selections made.

AVAILABLE January 2011 through 2012
For additional information, contact Frances Wu Giarratano, Exhibitions Manager, at 212.254.8200 x 29, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Peter Dykhuis is director and curator of the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Prior to that he was director of the Anna Leonowens Gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a guest curator for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. His most recent exhibition is Giving Notice: Words on Walls.