Also open Friday, April 8 from 5-8pm at the gallery in River North as part of EXPO Art After Hours
EXPO Chicago - Booth 317
April 7-10, 2022
Curated by Lisa Wainwright, Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
As the art world spotlight turns to an earlier generation of women artists out of Chicago—Diane Simpson, Sue Ellen Rocca and Gladys Nillson, to name only a few, it seems timely to reengage with the whimsical work of Margaret Wharton. Wharton, who passed away in 2014, left behind fantastically crafted sculptural assemblages as well as a body of photographs documenting an important feminist practice. Her work speaks to the history of women artists coming out in the 70s as active professionals and using the trappings of their domestic environment as significant formal material. For Wharton this meant the chair as muse. She cut and sliced, tooled and reshaped, adorned and reassembled this humble found object, turning the everyday into the extraordinary. Other artists have played with the chair—Lucas Samaras, who Wharton greatly admired, and Robert Rauschenberg from the past, and more recently Fred Wilson, Ai Weiwei and Doris Salcedo. The chair as a found object conjures the figure and the potential of this symbolic form: its’ easy humanism and accessibility, served them and Wharton well. New to our understanding of Wharton’s contributions, however, are her environmental stagings. Her photographic documentation of grand outdoor installations of chairs and other materials can be seen in relation to the then burgeoning movement of conceptual photography, a medium that a number of feminists employed at the time as a means of utilizing media outside of a patriarchal legacy. These photo series, not seen since her 1981 retrospective at the MCA in Chicago invite us to reconsider her legacy once again. Margaret Wharton’s skillful and quirky musings on the human condition are yet another example of the riches of the midwestern story in the history of American art.