• Anne Truitt, Hannah Wilke @ Alex Zachary Gallery

    Date posted: July 26, 2011 Author: jolanta

    It is no secret that New York City is currently in the throes of a heat wave that show no signs of letting up. Faced with a forecast of endless ninety-degree days, thoughts naturally drift to vulnerability—namely our own at the hands of this severe summer. For those seeking commiseration, this theme of vulnerability—with the means to face and perhaps even celebrate it—emerges in the work of two artists currently on view at the Alex Zachary Gallery, located at 16 East 77th St.

     

    Hannah Wilke, So Help Me Hannah: Snatch Shots with Ray Guns, 1978. Silver gelatin print, 14 x 11 in.

    Anne Truitt, Hannah Wilke @ Alex Zachary Gallery

    Anatole Ashraf

    It is no secret that New York City is currently in the throes of a heat wave that show no signs of letting up. Faced with a forecast of endless ninety-degree days, thoughts naturally drift to vulnerability—namely our own at the hands of this severe summer. For those seeking commiseration, this theme of vulnerability—with the means to face and perhaps even celebrate it—emerges in the work of two artists currently on view at the Alex Zachary Gallery, located at 16 East 77th St.

    Hannah Wilke (1940-1993) was an American painter, sculptor, photographer, video and performance artist based in New York City. She first gained attention with vaginal sculptures inspired by the women’s liberation movement. Although the four 14×11 in., silver gelatin prints on display at Alex Zachary do indeed echo that movement, the collection, “So Help Me Hannah: Snatch Shots with Ray Guns” (1978), has a scope that is deeper and more intimate. The photographs are completely dishonest, but remarkably, it is a deliberate and unabashed dishonesty. From the staging to her nude poses, Wilke seems to deceive the viewer into expecting a confession or deeper insight, but she offers none that is readily apparent. The artist may be exposing herself, but the vulnerability on display is decidedly ambiguous. The theme of vulnerability recurs through the dilapidated alleys, basements, and buildings, the artist’s nudity (except for heels), and the contrasting nature of a handgun, or as Wilke calls it, a “ray gun.”

    The stand-out photograph of the collection (the photos all share the same title) shows Wilke from behind, crouched in front of a waist-high wooden wall, facing the viewer. The lower half of Wilke’s face is covered by her hair. As a result, it is impossible to see her expression and tell whether she is alarmed or, as one can easily imagine, smiling. She could even be threatening the viewer. The photograph toes the line between brash, feminine confidence and fearful vulnerability. The overall effect is undeniably disarming, a sentiment that is especially ironic since she wields a “ray gun.”

    Another stand-out is Anne Truitt’s acrylic on wood sculpture, Portal (1978), placed in the installation in a manner fitting its title. A 96-in. column painted entirely white, the sculpture is a compelling exercise in the distinctive minimalism for which Truitt is famous. The sculpture is comprised of brushstrokes so meticulous and myriad in number that, in a style reminiscent of Georges Seurat’s 1884 masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, the final piece emerges as if from one unbroken material. Together, Truitt’s monolithic Portal and Wilke’s Snatch Shots with Ray Guns echo a lasting stoicism in the face of vulnerability that emerges from solitude.

    Melissa.maguire@ny1.com

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