Dana Major Kanovitz - Infiltrator, 2009 - Paper pulp, oil paint, human and horse hair, and mixed media, 38 X 33 X 23 inches - Courtesy of Wexler Gallery, Philadelphia, PA

PHILADELPHIA, PA - Wexler Gallery is proud to present The Self & Beyond , a group show curated by Sienna Freeman, Associate Director of the Wexler Gallery.   The exhibition explores the idea of self as experienced through the body- an organic and temporary vessel in which the psyche is housed during life.   Featured artists include Kiki Smith, Dana Major Kanovitz, Monica Cook and Melanie Bilenker .   The exhibition will run from September 4th through October 31st, 2009.   An opening reception will take place on First Friday, September 4th, from 5 – 8pm.

Working in a variety of mediums, these four artists explore the idea of self as dualistic in nature: internal and external, physical and spiritual, private and public, cognizant and unaware.   Linked by a common desire to investigate the territories between these places, each creates work that often mirrors their own physical likeness while examining wider issues concerning identity, mortality, sexuality, and human nature.  

Drawing on theories of embodiment from the fields of psychology, sociology, and philosophy, the exhibition also considers the idea of self in relation to the theme of “the double,” a subconscious representation of one’s ego.   Often associated with the uncanny, “a form of terror that leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar," the double has been referenced throughout history in literature and art,   assuming various forms including shadow, reflection, mirror, and twin.  

Kiki Smith -Sphinx, 2004 Porcelain - Edition 8 of 13 5 x 4 x 12 inchesOne of the most influential artists of her generation, Kiki Smith has challenged ideas regarding the body as both subject and object for over 30 years.   Using a broad spectrum of materials to create sculpture, prints, and installation works, Smith explores the often unsettling relationship between body and psyche with a continued interest in self portraiture.   Referencing themes commonly found in folklore and mythology, much of her work reflects on personal mortality, bodily decay, and symbolic relationships between humans and animals .  

The daughter of American sculptor Tony Smith, Smith was born in Germany and grew up in New Jersey.   Her work can be found in numerous prominent museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.   Smith has exhibited work in three Whitney Biennials and has been the recipient of many distinguished awards including the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2000.   The artist presently lives and works in New York City.

Sculptor Dana Major Kanovitz is an artist who believes “perception and possibility, as much as circumstance, create the self.”   Her creations, haunting life-sized figures of unclad women wielding long blond hair and piercing eyes, bear a striking resemblance to the artist herself.     Interacting with their environment by crouching in corners, dangling on a window ledge, or floating suspended in mid air, her figures “examine a single moment’s particular alchemy of perception, possibility, and reality; they are portraits of an instant of the self.”

With a background in ceramics, Kanovitz earned a BA in Philosophy from De Paul University in Chicago in 1991.   She then completed an 18 month professional apprenticeship in sculpture with master sculptor Alexander Zadorin of the Muhkinskya Institute of Art in St. Petersburg, Russia.   Kanovitz has shown extensively throughout the United States at galleries and museums including Leslie Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, MA, The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, PA and the Kentucky Museum of Art + Design in Louisville, KY.   She has also exhibited work at international art fairs including SOFA Chicago and Bridge Art Fair in Miami.   The artist presently lives and works in Chicago.  

Monica Cook Untitled (Self portrait), 2008 Oil on canvas 24 X 24”Monica Cook paints hyper realistic portraits of female figures, often using herself as subject.   With an interest in capturing the subtle qualities flesh, Cook is “fascinated by how history is trapped in the skin: the stories told in lines etched into faces, bruises and scars from their past.”   Heightening the details on and in the flesh, Cook aims to enhance the mortal presence of the subject and create “a tension between the psychological complexity of the person and their raw humanness.”   

Born in Dalton, GA, Cook earned a BA in painting from the Savannah college of Art and Design.   She recently concluded a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she presently lives and works. Cook’s paintings have shown in numerous group and solo exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide, including the Moti Hasson Gallery in New York City, the King Bridge Biennial  at The Columbus Museum in Columbus, GA, and the Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta, GA.   Her work can be found in many prominent collections and has been reviewed in numerous international publications including Art in America, Le Figaro, Elle Magazine, and New American Paintings.  

Melanie Bilenker is a Philadelphia based artist who creates tiny wearable self-portraits from clippings of her own hair, cast in resin and set in precious metals.   Referencing Victorian hair work of the mid-nineteenth century, Bilenker uses the physical remnants of her body to secure memories of “quiet minutes, the mundane, the domestic, and the ordinary moments” in her life.   Her jewelry pieces, which often depict the artist in the mist of intimate activities such as brushing her teeth, taking a nap, drawing a bath, or reading a book, are both adornment for the body and commentary on its ultimate decay.  

Melanie Bilenker earned a BFA in Crafts with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.    Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC and has been included in various exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery in London, UK, the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, CA, the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, and the Museum of Art + Design, NY.   Her work has also been featured in numerous publications including Metalsmith Magazine's recent Exhibition in Print, American Craft Magazine, and Lark Books' 1000 Rings and 500 Brooches.

The Wexler Gallery is located at 201 North Third Street in the historical district of Old City Philadelphia. We invite you to visit our gallery or explore our website, www.wexlergallery.com  . For additional information, please contact  or call (215) 923-7030.

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Pause For Thought

Brancusi on Essence

"What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface."