It is striking to encounter artwork that upon first glance reveals itself being created in another era, yet fresh and completely of the moment. Such was my experience upon entering Hollis Taggart Gallery to view the works of Idelle Weber. Her collages, Lucite cube sculptures, and gouache on paper works occupy a broad range of issues that reflect the time of their creation, an era of social change from late fifties into the seventies. Not only do Weber’s main themes – corporate world, fashion, politics, and women in society – still stand today, but her work may also be read through additional lenses, such as those of gender and race politics, which dominate the present cultural landscape.
WHO: Idelle Weber
WHAT: Postures and Profiles from the 50s and 60s
WHERE: Hollis Taggart Gallery, 521 West 26th St, New York
WHEN: November 8, 2018 – December 15, 2018
Idelle Weber was born in Chicago in 1932 and is one of the female pioneers of the Pop Art movement (her work is thought to be the unacknowledged inspiration for the opening sequence of Mad Men). Her body of work – including her later turn toward photorealism – is now included in public collections of major museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others. Weber’s paintings may look like polished prints from a distance, but they require close and careful inspection, not only because of their small size but also because the minute detail reveals the careful hand of the artist, along with the very subtle signs of aging of the physical work.
This quality of her work may have eluded Andy Warhol, who characteristically suggested to her that she could make “much more paintings” by employing a paint roller instead of the delicate paint brush, but it is also what makes these pieces function in a different, lyrical, aesthetic realm.
Her piece “Untitled 1961-2” features two swooping figures that seem to float in a warm cadmium orange glow. They look like circus performers and recall early film posters from the turn of the century. In this and several other pieces her work also recalls early Op Art. The use of black and white grids and vibrant flat colors create a sense of movement and tension.
The overarching formal device that Weber employs over the collages, sculptures and paintings at the Hollis Taggart show is the silhouette. This means that the figures that are to represent what was primarily a white corporate America of the 50’s and 60’s are depicted as black, and also, strangely but inevitably puts her in conversation with contemporary artists such as Kara Walker and William Kentridge who also use silhouettes in their work to construct a very different dialogue about gender, historical power structures, violence, sexual aggression and colonial oppression.