Jenelle Porter on Sheila Hicks: 50 Years

14 Apr 2011

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Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2011. Photo by Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media.

Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, the first US survey of the Paris-based American's textile work, opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia in 2011. Though it was organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, the local iteration—curated by Jenelle Porter and funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage—was notable for its thoughtful, theatrical installation. Porter is now at the ICA, Boston, but took time to answer a few brief questions.

What is prompting the reconsideration of Hicks' work now?

I truly believe these kinds of reconsiderations are serendipitous. But with Hicks, part of that serendipity stems from her willingness to dip her toe in the river. Sheila Hicks is an artist who has very intentionally worked alongside—but not outside—developments in the contemporary art field. During the last few years, she has said yes to more exhibitions, in galleries and museums, of her work, and the subsequent interest in the work has followed suit.

Why did you want to bring this show to Philadelphia?

First of all, I fell in love with the work, and wanted to be part of it—specifically to see it, to work with it, and with Hicks. She has described her work as building "bridges between art, design, architecture and decorative arts," a description that also applies to ICA's curatorial mission: to think expansively about what constitutes contemporary culture. Finally, Philadelphia was historically a key city for textile production, and has a vibrant fiber arts community.

How is the installation at the ICA different from the installation at the Addison Gallery of American Art, where the show originated?

Of course, the show is installed very differently, which is just a condition of architecture. But one major change is the addition of a huge work called May I Have This Dance? It was originally commissioned by Target for their Minneapolis headquarters. It has been loaned to the ICA, and will travel with the show to the next venue, the Mint Museum of Art. It is a massively-scaled work that consumes one-quarter of the gallery space, installed here by the artist in a cascade that descends from the ICA's 40-foot ceiling. In terms of the context, the ICA is very different architecturally from the Addison, and I know Hicks is pleased to see her work in a space purpose-built for contemporary art. The work just breathes in a different way.