The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (HICA) in Charleston, South Carolina has a long history of celebrating works by artists who exist on the fringe of the mainstream contemporary art world. For the inaugural exhibition of their new gallery space, Director and Senior Curator Mark Sloan is presenting a collection of collage and assemblage works, titled work v. / work n., from a rather unknown artist standing at the edge of her first major museum exhibition, at the ripe age of 74.
The artist, known only as Aldwyth, has long abandoned her first name not in the hopes of being seen in the fashionable lineage of Madonna and Cher, but to conceal her identity as a woman and to neutralize her position as an artist in a male dominated world. As an artist evaluating the mainstream art world from the sidelines, much of her work confronts the patriarchal genealogy of art from the margins. Similarly described in the bell hooks essay marginality as site of resistance, Aldwyth carefully moves away from marginalization as a site of deprivation and positions herself in a space of resistance, remaining part of the whole but outside the main body of the art world.
For decades, Aldwyth has remained rather anonymous, creating work in seclusion in a small coastal island of South Carolina. Many of her works confront issues related to exclusion within recorded art history, like Document, where she attempts to amend the history of art as listed in the 1950′s edition of Canaday and Janson with ongoing personal updates. By endlessly expanding the 1950′s edition, Aldwyth rewrites art history as she sees fit and leaves the end blank for history to continue to write itself.
Aldwyth’s collage works explore the massive through the minute, creating large indexes of images and ideas. In works such as The World According to Zell and Casablanca the artist has created entire worlds that catalog and reveal new meaning through the manipulation of context. The World According to Zell recontextualizes an encyclopedia from 1871 whereas the artist has removed all images in the two volume set to create her own visual history.
She has also created an impressive collection of assemblage works with found objects embedded with their own cultural history. Many of the objects tell an abstract story of the artists life, including personal rejection, success, wonder and melancholy. The objects found within her assemblage works offer a direct nod to artists such as Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp and much of the Dadaist movement.
While it may seem unfit for an artist who often creates work about being on the outside of an institutional framework to finally be the subject of a major museum exhibition, it is precisely this fact that makes Aldwyth’s work so appealing. Creating work for decades with little to no regard of ever exhibiting her creations has embedded the work with a unique sincerity that comes as a privilege for viewing. To experience the artist’s work is to confront a new history, one that has been rewritten from the outside looking in.
Work v. / Work n. will be on view at HICA through January 9th, 2010. The exhibition will travel to the Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center for the Arts from February 10th through May 17th, 2010. Work v. / Work n. is accompanied by a full color-catalog.