Cathy Wilkes (b. 1966, born and raised in Belfast) is a protagonist in the Glasgow art scene, her work began to be internationally recognized in the late 1990s. Though an early pioneer of this group of artists, her consistently tough work with social realist human representation has made her a unique figure within it. Her practice – an equal mix of sculpture, painting and installation – in some ways demonstrates how we might redefine genre painting for the present day.

Her works are composed using figures, dolls and various types of found objects and materials, which together make sculptural and spatial scenarios. Wilkes’ sculptures have a painterly quality, as they have often been processed using paint or even dirt. She also creates paintings and variously-processed canvases and wood panels, which have the look of traces or very quick sketches of existential situations: a far cry from familiar, historical genre painting, Wilkes’ painting is more abstract, more material and immaterial at the same time. Wilkes confronts our understanding of abstraction as non-binding, formalist, pointillist or gestural, challenging us to experience another attitude through her constellations: in this case, everything abstract is imbued with the social, psychological and real. These supposedly “pure” paintings by Cathy Wilkes are every bit as physical as her figures and ghostly dolls, and as much a human representation as the nudes she places in the room or drapes with pale fabrics. This constellation of elements creates an utterly ambivalent intensity that makes Wilkes’ work so outstanding and unique: in it we find a deep sadness, an existential representation and exhibition of life and death, a depiction of mourning – inchoate visions on fictional stages.

Especially considering the latter, it seems important to show Cathy Wilkes – who is now receiving her first institutional exhibition in UK – in Germany as well: after all, Wilkes helped invent the tropes of modern existentialism and Brechtian theatricality so popular in contemporary art today. A viewer of her work experiences the transformation from an exhibition space to a theatrical stage-space, into a living space, an expanded intelligence– and is gripped by the process of communion.

Cathy Wilkes is an artist who exhibits rarely and with great care. The concept of this exhibition – which will take very different forms in spaces at TATE Liverpool, Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz and Museum Abteiberg – combines works from different stages of her career: a collection of works since 1998, both installations and sculptures as well as paintings and sketches, which the artist has linked and is now merging into one large work. With the owners’ consent, these works from private and museum collections will temporarily lose their outlines and borders. In an act of comprehensive artistic reappropriation, Cathy Wilkes fuses all of them together to form a large, spatial installation.

Cathy Wilkes has created a catalogue for the three stations of the exhibition, commenting on the building and atmosphere of her concept in a series of images and texts: Paperback, 64 pages, 26 full-page illustrations, price at the museum: 17.50 euros.


8 November 2014, 2 pm
ARTIST TALK with Cathy Wilkes

Realized in cooperation with TATE Liverpool and LENTOS Kunstmuseum Linz. The exhibition at the Museum Abteiberg was realized with funds from the Kunststiftung NRW and the Hans Fries-Stiftung,