HON – en katehdral (1966) (above) in Stockholm's Moderna Museet was my first real and up close encounter with feminist iconography and art. The gigantic sculpted rotund woman, reminiscent of ancient goddess figurines found frequently throughout European archeological digs, was painted splendidly vibrant colorful splotches and patterns. This HON, sometimes know as NANAS (French slang for broads), joyful and playful, was a celebration of womanhood. Viewers entered through her vagina to find a juice bar and a small cinema showing Greta Garbo films. In the sketchbook that I travelled with that summer as I wandered through Northern Europe I made a quick drawing of the HON, her imagery making a large impression on me.
While the piece was a collaboration among Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Ting and Per Olof Ultvedt, the large woman figure is clearly the conception and part of the long oeuvre of de Saint Phalle's work. The Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris at the beginning of 2015 held a major retrospective of her work, which then travelled on to the Guggenheim Bilbao.
A Symposium on Labyrinthine exhibitions that HON – en katehdral was a part of is scheduled for next February 2 at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It is being held “in the context” of the large-scale retrospective of “Jean Tinguely-Machine Spectacle”. I find this disturbing. Is this an edging out of the role of de Saint Phalle in creating HON?
Seeing, again the image of HON – en katehdral sparked me to think of my own multi-media installation, THE PROPOSAL (1985) created almost two decades later. The encircling fabric, hung as a spiral – a kind of labyrinth – diaphanous, silkscreened with numerous mountain-scapes surrounds an Apple11e computer. The center point in HON, a womb which then held a juice bar is replaced in THE PROPOSAL with a new technological tool, “a baby” computer of work and art making. Also in THE PROPOSAL was a film projection, in this case a stop action film loop of a barn being moved. The installation played with the dynamic between being artist and administrator, using the computer as a central administrative and artistic tool.
How do we perceive these or any works again and understand anything about their original presentational contexts? Surely it is a challenge of the well known exhibitions and artists to truly perceive the exhibition and its ensuing public interest. But it is a far more complex challenge of the unknown exhibitions and artists where little documentation is available and the experience of these two viewer women in the photo interacting with their first computer is unknown.
Colloquium Preceding the symposium, a young researchers colloquium at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will explore the broader context of artistic and curatorial approaches to Setting the Conditions of Display in 20th and 21st century art. (Unfortunately deadline was Aug 30, 2015).