Initiated by Peter DykhuisMartha Wilson’s career, spanning 40 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; and her collaboration with other women to form the group DISBAND, among many other activities. 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 that allow an exploration of 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 through 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 1970s.”
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) 30 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 works 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 works on site at the participating institutions, collaborating with the curator(s) 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 the 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.
At, INOVA, University of Wisconsin, for example, Wilson and curator Sara Krajewski focused on the artist's experimental practices to examine past and current attitudes toward feminism, activism, and socially engaged art. Simultaneously, the neighboring Portrait Society Gallery (Milwaukee, WI) presented The Personal is Political: Martha Wilson and MKE, where local artists responded to Wilson's work and the Sourcebook. In addition, a New York City-based food theorist and artist, Ame Gilbert, organized a special dinner event, titled A Delectable Evening of Imperfection with Martha Wilson, where each course served during the dinner related to the work and ideas of Wilson, theatrically staged in different rooms of the gallery.