A pioneer of feminist art, Hannah Wilke is widely known for controversial photographs and performance videos featuring her own youthful, beautiful and highly sexualized body, and, years later, the same body ravaged by cancer. Wilke’s art, however, is grounded in sculpture. It most often assumes forms resembling abstracted female genitalia composed in a wide range of materials including clay, latex, chewing gum, chocolate, bacon, Play-doh, erasers, dryer lint, cookie dough, and bronze. Works involving her own body she referred to as “living sculpture.” Wilke most often used materials that are soft, malleable, and capable of being manipulated and formed easily by hand. Latex, a medium that became popular with artists in the 1970s, had a particularly flesh-like quality and directness that appealed to her.
Ponder-r-rosa 1, 1974 is the earliest of Wilke’s extant latex sculptures. The piece comprises nine black floral “labial” shapes built up with layers of circular latex sheets bound together with metal snaps. The industrial black latex and metal grommets contrasts with the soft, supple quality of the forms. Organic rosette forms are pressed into a strict, gridlike arrangement on the wall, evoking the hard-edge geometry that informed so much of painting and sculpture in the 1970s.
Ponder-r-rosa 1 is a major statement by a completely original artist whose work continues to inspire and influence later generations of artists and to generate discourse around the intersections of artistic and cultural practices. A work of this scale and caliber has a significant impact on WCMA’s collection of modern and contemporary American sculpture, and augments a strength in works by important women artists.