Sheila Hicks, Palitos con Bolas, 2008-2015, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Gift by Itaka Martignoni and Cristobal Zañartu in 2017, © Centre Pompidou, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
For the first time in Paris, the musée national d’Art moderne – Centre Georges-Pompidou is dedicating a retrospective to Sheila Hicks (born 1934), following a significant donation by Itaka Martignoni and Cristobal Zañartu.
The way in which the works by this artist interact with their host space is one of the exhibition’s strong points, since its choice of location is of particular importance, both in terms of the tone of each work and with respect to the quality of the exhibition as a whole. However, while the textile work of Hicks seems welcoming and warm, owing to its luxurious textures and colours, the gallery the museum has chosen, whose wide bay windows open directly onto the city, is what initially creates this cosy impression, while also indicating how the artist approaches the codified exercise of the retrospective.
The parcours, designed by curator Michel Gauthier with Hicks’ participation, thus mimics the playful character of the work, within a decompartmentalised environment that is not intended to render the chronology in a strict and linear fashion. After the entry to the exhibition, where the visitor is confronted with the various almost kinetic elements of Bâoli Chords/Cordes sauvages pow wow (2014-2015), the gaze is free to roam among certain works that play on the notion of folds, layering, and on their attachment to the floor (Córdoba, 1968-2011; Pêcher dans la rivière, 1989-2013) and other vertical works, which sometimes take more deliberate advantage of the specificities of the location (Lianes de Beauvais, 2011-2012; La Sentinelle de safran, 2018).
Sheila Hicks, House of Spirits, 2007, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Gift by Itaka Martignoni and Cristobal Zañartu in 2017, © Centre Pompidou, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
In accordance with this same prominent concern for the space, the perimeter walls display the artist’s most directly pictorial works, owing to their tension with relative flatness. The series known as Minimes – a set of small weavings made using diverse materials – created by the artist uninterruptedly from the second half of the 1950s, is therefore presented by way of around one hundred works whose display-by-association seeks to follow an experimental and generative logic. The specific respiratory nature of Hicks’ art finds its most vibrant example in the to-and-fro between this corpus and the larger works. Slightly off-centre, an arrangement bringing together a selection of films and the artist’s documents and objects of study takes sole charge of catering to the contextual aspect. Hicks’ practice is here resituated within the itinerary of her training, between the disruption of the hierarchy that puts in opposition art and design, inherited from the Bauhaus, developed under Anni and Josef Albers at Yale University, her travels to Mexico, and her attentive observation of Pre-Columbian textiles.
Following Apprentissages,1 the artist’s previous powerful intervention in Paris, which, in contrast, was entirely installation-based, the Centre Pompidou exhibition’s challenge resides in an in-between status, in which the intrinsic playfulness of the work compromises with the inherent demands of the institutional retrospective. The organisation of Lignes de vie [Life Lines] marks a significant phase in the acknowledgement of Hicks’ production in France, which has by now been long established. However, although the artist, who has lived in Paris since 1964, sees her work progressively gaining access to the canon of art history in the second half of the 20th century, its reception remains marked by a temporal shift that is symptomatic both of the fate reserved for many women and of the subordinate status that materials purportedly belonging to the so-called “decorative” arts continue to maintain.
Sheila Hicks. Lignes de vie, from 7 February to 30 April 2018, at the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Georges-Pompidou (Paris, France).