October 12–December 15, 2012
Some comment in advance of the exhibition, as plain and bare as we can make it: In some circles, Marianne Wex is famous for not being famous enough, in other circles she’s a sociological footnote, and in still other circles, she does not exist. Historical snack food is no more acceptable here than anywhere else, but every so often, some less-known work comes speaking to us so loudly that we take ourselves out of the narrow confines of our own time and motion into the past tense.
The show is a single visual polemic. From 1972 to 1977, Wex rolled the stone of her commitment uphill and compiled an archive. She took thousands of banal and clandestine photographs of women and men in the streets of Hamburg. She re-photographed magazines and newspapers, advertisements, art-historical reproductions, her television, whatever was in reach. She arranged the results on her dotted line and collaged them into large paste-up panels and a book, a kind of expanded sibling entitled Let’s Take Back Our Space: “Female” and “Male” Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures (1979). At the center of both the panels and the book is a wide disputation about how we create and present ourselves, and the degree to which gender-specific conditioning and hierarchies are reflected through everyday pose, gesture, and pre-verbal communication.
Her insistency on meaning has been a stumbling block for some viewers who would prefer to think the work single-minded. But to judge it solely by its frozen message of second-wave feminism is to ignore one’s own ambition as a viewer. It is also to ignore the way that works of art naturally progress from intention to elsewhere. Artists, try as they might, can’t nail meaning in place, so thirty-five years later, we’re left with the work’s frontal voice and everything it has come to say in spite of itself. We might then think of it non-exhaustively as an encyclopedia of gesture; an anthropological portrait of Hamburg in the 1970s; a monomaniacal tract on art history; a neglected classic of appropriation aesthetics; a treatise on photography and editing; an autobiography; and an exorcism.
Marianne Wex was born in 1937 in Hamburg, and now lives in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany. She studied at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg and taught there from 1963 to 1980. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she showed her work in national and international solo and group exhibitions (including at NGBK Berlin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Bonner Kunstverein, and ICA London). Wex’s photo panels were shown in 2009 at Focal Point Gallery in London and in 2012 at the Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, Germany. Yale Union presents the work of Marianne Wex for the first time in the United States.
The program will include a screening of Helke Sander’s film The All-Around Reduced Personality (1978) on Tuesday, October 30, 7pm; a reading by Chris Kraus on Sunday, November 4, 3pm; a screening of Chantal Akerman’s film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) at the Northwest Film Center on Tuesday, November 6, 7pm; and a talk by Avigail Moss on Sunday, November 18, 4pm.