Hannah Villiger, Arbeit / Work, 1980 © Foundation The Estate of Hannah Villiger
Hannah Villiger
Apr 3 – Jul 22, 2024
Centre Pompidou
Paris, France

Bringing together around 100 works and documents from the collections of the Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Estate of Hannah Villiger foundation, this monographic exhibition dedicated to Swiss artist Hannah Villiger is the first of its kind in France. It pays homage to an artistic practice that oscillated between sculpture, photography and spatial architecture, beginning in the early 1970s and evolving until the mid-1990s.

The exhibition presents several recent acquisitions by the Musée National d’Art Moderne and revisits the key periods of the artist’s career. After studying sculpture at the School of Applied Arts in Lucerne (Switzerland), Hannah Villiger (1951-1997) graduated in 1974 and quickly gained international recognition. She drew inspiration from Arte Povera and conceptual art, using simple objects and natural materials in her works. First used as a means of documenting her work, the photographic medium later became central to her artistic practice. Using a 35mm camera, she produced several series of black and white photographs of natural objects in motion (a feather, ball, bird, water, etc.). Then, using a Polaroid camera, she presented her own body in a fragmented manner. The small, instant colour photographs she obtained were photographed again and enlarged a hundredfold: “the photos have to be big so that I can get inside them”, she wrote in one of her notebooks. Around 1984, she started to call her works Skulptural, thereby emphasising the images’ connection with sculpture. Later on, she assembled her large photographs into monumental Blocks composed of Polaroid montages, of which a selection is presented in the exhibition. The exhibition also presents a collection of sketchbooks and ephemera (invitations, posters).

Hannah Villiger’s body of work developed in harmony with those of her contemporaries, such as Valie Export, Cindy Sherman, Martha Wilson and Orlan, but seemed devoid of questions of identity or openly feminist demands. She always defined herself as a sculptor and constantly sought, through her enlarged photographs presented as dynamic sets, to reveal the intrinsic properties of an anonymised material body, modelled by mechanical recording. The spatial presentation of her photographs in the exhibition venue was an integral part of her work, as was its performative dimension. From 1986, Villiger’s artistic practice was based in Paris. In the 1990s, the artist took part in many international exhibitions and represented her country at the Swiss pavilion of the São Paulo Biennial in 1994. In 2001, a major retrospective was dedicated to her at the Kunsthalle in Basel, accompanied by a catalogue raisonné of her work.

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