ELLI LORI REPORTS ‘THE HISTORICAL BOX’ EXHIBITION AT HAUSER& WIRTH, SAVILLE ROW 23 MAY- 28 JULY
featured image: Stan VanDerBeek, Mankind 1957
‘The Historical Box’ is an exhibition devoted to various influential American artists including John Altoon, Judith Bernstein, Simone Forti, Wally Hedrick, and Robert Mallary among others. Curated by Mara McCarthy, ‘The Historical Box’ in London is following the exhibition’s critically acclaimed presentation in Zurich. The exhibition consists of art works created during the 1960s and 1970s in the USA, a collection that consists of a variety of mediums, from performance art, dance and film to drawings and sculptures.
One of the most striking art works exhibited is ‘The War Room’ (1967/68-2002) by Wally Hedrick, a massive
installation that can be seen as a response to the Vietnam War. The installation is constructed from eight large canvases that are bolted together to create a room where visitors can walk in. Due to the fact that the canvases are painted black, the experience is overwhelming, giving you the feeling that you are being consumed by darkness. The concept of ‘The War Room’ can directly be understood not merely from its appearance, but from its interactive nature as well. The fact that visitors are invited to enter ‘The War Room’ makes the art work even more powerful and meaningful.
Alongside ‘The War Room’ there is a sculpture on the wall by Robert Mallary entitled ‘Harpy’ (1962). The sculpture derives from a violent, mythological creature that has a human head and the body of a bird. With its skeletal frame, ‘Harpy’ has its wings outstretched seeming vulnerable but at the same time the figure evokes fear with its large looming body.
Since the 1960s and 1970s met the rise of the feminist movement and feminist performance art, the
exhibition presents the pioneer feminist performance artist Barbara T. Smith. Appropriating the theme of the time, Smith explores issues of gender, power and spirituality in a secular society. On display are a selection of her performances, including ‘Feed Me’ (1973) and ‘Scan 1’ (1974). Judith Bernstein’s works are also addressing issues of gender and power. As a feminist artist, Bernstein’s drawings ‘Horizontal’ (1973) and ‘Supercock’ (1966) present a comical critique of the male-dominated art world.
Part of the exhibition is also a selection of VanDerBeek’s animation frames from his films. Throughout his career, VanDerBeek has experimented with various mediums and emerging forms of computer-based media and animation. Combining film with painting, photography, architecture, he created compositions as a reference to Surrealism and Dadaism collages.
‘The Historical Box’ presents an incredible collection of various important artists, and the variety of media presented exemplifies the contemporary relevance of the issues that the artists confronted in the 1960s and 1970s. Hauser & Wirth offers the opportunity to experience highly influential art works that have been of a great importance in art history and the exhibition overall exemplifies the issues that these artists were concerned with at the time.