Erotic Abstraction

Acquavella Galleries
18 East 79th Street
New York
Upper East Side
May 5th — Jun 18th

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Responding to the Minimalist movement of the 1960s, both Eva Hesse and Hannah Wilke sought to soften, feminize, or otherwise subvert that prevailing trend in New York, where they both lived. Both turned to unusual materials like fiberglass and latex. “Erotic Abstraction” at Acquavella Galleries, the first exhibition to pair the two artists, will display nearly two dozen works ranging from 1965 to 1977 and examine the ways both pioneering artists turned to the female body in their sculptural practices.

Hesse returns to an inset concentric circle motif in a number of works. Untitled ink wash works render the circles in gradients of gray-black inside implied grids, while relief works are made with circular coiled cord and papier-mâché on Masonite. The motif might culminate in Ringaround Arosie (1965), a thick canvas in which two circles are ringed in red and raised to pale pink nubs, like nipples. Slightly off center and irregular, it offsets Minimalism’s entrenched consistency.

Wilke similarly draws on and repeats a limited visual vocabulary in a Minimalist tradition—but her signature is a more distinctly bodily, vulva-like shape, often made of folded latex. In one series, she appends the vulva-like sculptures to postcards of landmark American locales. In Atlantic City Boardwalk (1975), the kneaded-eraser putty shapes fill the outline of the boardwalk and extend past the bounds of the postcard as well. The shapes form a neatly arrayed grid typical of Minimalist abstraction—but it is tilted, extended, and filled with markers of the female body.

Eva Hesse, Ringaround Arosie, 1965. Pencil, acetone, varnish, enamel paint, ink, and cloth covered electrical wire on papier-mâché and Masonite. 26 3/8 x 16 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Fractional and promised gift of Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.