Magazine article Artforum International

Sheila Hicks: Institute of Contemporary Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Sheila Hicks: Institute of Contemporary Art

Article excerpt

Vanishing Yellow (1964/2004) is very small, at least in comparison to the many works Sheila Hicks has made whose scale verges on the architectural. Yet, at barely 9 x 8 inches, this simple cotton-thread composition exemplifies the genius of the seventy-seven-year-old fiber artist, whose first major career retrospective opened at the ICA Philadelphia this past spring. Employing a basic slit-weave construction, Hicks has anointed the lower-left quadrant of this coarse-threaded off-white woven "painting" with yellow horizontal bands. The resultant object is as intimate as a manuscript illumination and yet no less arresting for its materialism and compositional abstraction. Perhaps it's not surprising that Hicks was a student of the great colorist Josef Albers, who instructed her in the mid- to late 1950s while teaching at Yale University, as well as of art historian George Kubler and the architect Louis Kahn. Vanishing Yellow is one of numerous small weavings that Hicks has produced over the course of her fifty-five-year career. Dubbing them "minimes," Hicks considers these small linear pieces (often fashioned on looms wrought from stretcher bars) to be daily meditations. But though they are mere studies in color and material, these mini experiments hold their own beside the colossal fiber sculptures that have come to define the artist's practice in recent years.

Hicks's industriousness and compositional brilliance stem from a life of heterogeneous training: As a child she was taught traditional "woman's work" (needlepoint and sewing); then at Yale she went on to learn loom weaving and painting. Researching traditional non-Western techniques, she traveled to Central and South America; and while affiliated with Knoll Associates in the mid-'60s, she developed an interest in the idea of sculpture in the expanded field. Post-Minimalism--namely the work of Robert Morris and Eva Hesse--was a touchstone for Hicks as she implemented her fiber-based skills to explore space and scale, variously moving her practice off the loom and testing the limits of weaving's nominally two-dimensional complexion. The resultant oeuvre suggests a course that has moved uninhibitedly (and markedly apolitically) forward, drawing on all of these resources. …

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