The Lecture (1996)
23.0 x 54.5 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
Margaret Wharton’s practice disassembled and transformed everyday objects and materials into imaginative objects infused with a critical bite and fantastical whims. Wharton (1942-2014) was born in Virginia, and following the death of her mother, spent her childhood in North Carolina and Columbus, Ohio.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and moved to Chicago in 1970, where she was a founding member of Artemisia Cooperative Gallery, exclusively for female artists. In 1975, Wharton received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Working when Chicago Imagism was thriving in the city, Wharton’s work has been closely associated with the group due to her use of found objects, humor, and source material, but she was not formally affiliated with the group. She found artistic inspiration from artists Marcel Duchamp, H.C. Westermann, and Philip Guston, among others.
Wharton worked with a range of materials, including wood, discarded objects like shoes, chairs, baseball bats, and metal, and employed her high level of craftsmanship to manipulate them into sculptures with socially critical or anthropomorphic themes.
She was drawn specifically to the chair and the book and viewed them as metaphors for art making. Language is a key part of her artistic practice with her sculptures serving as explorations into the visual imagery, and re-construction, of words. She worked with baseball bats throughout her career, because of an interest in how sports terms and phrases are present in everyday social interactions.
She has been exhibited widely and her works are included in major museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art. With a career that spanned over four decades, Wharton used her voice to create support and opportunities for female artists in Chicago, pushed the understanding of found object sculpture to new imaginings, and made the everyday familiar transform into the magical unknowable.
The Lecture (1996) is a relief sculpture created in the latter portion of Wharton’s career.
Wharton reconfigured chairs into a frontally-oriented sculptural arrangement set in an open, backless, frame.
The sculpture is painted in a splatter paint style that is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s “drip” action paintings, where the artist would drip, throw, and pour layers of paint across the canvas surface.
The sculpture is comprised of two parallel rows of five vertically oriented shapes. Each individual totem-like shape derives from sections of the back of various wooden chairs. While each chair backing is a distinct shape from the next, subsequently offering a range of found objects in the sculpture, they are united by the color and splatter paint texture across the sculpture.
The chairs vertical orientation and the title of the artwork, encourages an anthropomorphic quality to the sculpture. Specifically looking at the form on the right edge of the composition, its shape, comprised of a round top, narrow midsection, and appendages, becomes an abstracted reference to human body.
The human-like quality of the reconfigured chairs shifts the everyday objects into abstract rows of people in a lecture forum. But by creating an open, backless frame to encircle the rows of abstract figures, Wharton confronts the illusion of space within the sculpture by incorporating the real space of the wall upon which it hangs.
The backless sculpture pulls forward the environment on which it is hung to become part of the sculpture itself, so that the background changes depending on the surface where it hangs.
In this, The Lecture vacillates between signaling the “idea” behind the work, being an abstract representation of an imagined scene with anthropomorphic tendencies, to forcing the viewer to confront its formal reality as reconfigured chairs in shallow space with drip painting technique.
The duality of the work being both image and form speaks to Wharton’s career-long mastery of transforming the everyday into something both familiar and fantasy.
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