Hannah Wilke Hannah Wilke: Living as Art

Art in America Oct 20, 2021

To live one’s life as art has advantages over living one’s life for art, not the least of which is that it is often more fun. Hannah Wilke’s work—currently the subject of a retrospective at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis—is testament to art’s generative and relational potential. Wilke developed a practice in which the boundaries between herself and her art dissolved. “I become my art, my art becomes me,” she wrote in “A Letter to Women Artists” in 1975, and in a 1986 interview with Linda Montano: “I made myself into a work of art” and “my entire life is the work of art.” She said she made art to “have life all around.” If art can invite life as a force into a single life, life is art enriched by more art, which brings more life, which goes on and on this way in a process that is exponential and combinatory. This compounding liveliness—a liveliness that indicates something like liberation at a historical moment when many were trying to work out all that word could mean—is the prevalent tone in Wilke’s work, even when it approached caring for her mother during breast cancer treatment and then facing her own death from lymphoma at the age of fifty-two. “Art,” said Wilke, “is for life’s sake.”

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