We are extremely pleased to announce our representation of multimedia artist Helène Aylon. Since the 1960s, the artist has produced a prodigious and diverse body of work arising from her lifelong engagement in spiritual and societal concerns.
Our inaugural exhibition, opening on January 12, 2019, will feature abstract paintings from the artist’s Elusive Silver series of the early 1970s. As described by the critic Peter Schjeldahl, these works have an “imagistic rhetoric at once physical and metaphysical.” Created from paint, layered Plexiglas, and aluminum, they reflect and refract an inner glow, changing visually with the viewer’s stance and the light conditions in which they are seen.
Her experimentation with process, her use of nontraditional materials, and the perceptual shifts inherent in the Elusive Silver series, led Aylon to radically challenge established norms by producing works that were intended to physically transform with the passage of time.
In 1973, after she moved from New York to San Francisco, she began two new series that were implicitly political in their refusal to adhere to traditional notions of permanence in art: Paintings That Change in Time and Pouring Formations. In contrast to the simultaneous formlessness and material complexity of the Elusive Silver works, these were powerful graphic statements made using a modicum of humble materials: linseed oil on paper, mounted on Masonite panels. According to the artist, “they were about process rather than completion, which I think of as feminist.”
In her 2012 autobiography Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released, Aylon writes:
The California paintings were of the earth … I painted from behind the surface of the paper, allowing the oils to seep through naturally, in their own time, outside of my doing. I’d wait for the image to manifest on the front surface through chance—absorption—and I would accept the outcome.
The incipient anatomical forms in these works can be seen to have led to the last series of the 1970s, the Breakings, in which Aylon introduced performance to process. These monumentally-scaled works were made in participatory events during which she poured several quarts of linseed oil onto large sheets of paper that she affixed to Masonite panels. Leaving them in place for several weeks while the oil developed a skin, the “breaking” occurred later when the artist, with several collaborators (who she called “midwives”), lifted the panels, allowing the oil to escape. The resulting works were Aylon’s most explicitly Feminist statements of the time with the process referring to childbirth and the enduring (and changing) image suggesting the female body.
Throughout her long and distinguished career, Aylon has continued to create installations, actions, and objects that deal with feminist, ecological, and religious issues. In 1980, she made the conscious decision to “leave studio work behind” and to instead embrace the earth as her material. Through her growing commitment to environmental and anti-nuclear activism, she produced symbolic events with the participation of other women, first in California, and later in Israel and Japan.
Aylon returned to New York In 1982. That year, in perhaps her best-known work of the decade, she enacted Earth Ambulance, by renting a truck that she disguised as an ambulance and driving it across the United States. En route, she piled earth from Strategic Air Command nuclear bases, uranium mines, and nuclear reactors into pillowcases, arriving in New York with the “rescued” sacks in time for a nuclear disarmament rally at the United Nations. Ten years later, in celebration of the end of the Cold War, a variation of the piece was presented at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage by Creative Time.
To mark the fortieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Aylon traveled to Japan in 1985 where she performed two sacs en route. Collaborating with a group of young Japanese women, she placed sacks filled with rice, grain, pods, and seeds in a river, to float toward the two cities. She is currently preparing a new iteration of this piece, to be presented in 2020, in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of that event.
In the 1990s, the artist began to focus her attentions on a re-visitation of her cultural, spiritual, and familial roots with the G-d Project, a twenty-year examination, through objects and installations, of Jewish traditions and theology from a feminist perspective.
Born in 1931 and raised within the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Helene Aylon was married to a rabbi at the age of eighteen and widowed, with two young children, at the age of thirty. While in her mid-twenties, she enrolled as an art major in Brooklyn College taking classes with Ad Reinhardt who became her friend and mentor.
Aylon’s art career commenced in the 1960s with several major commissioned murals. Following her first two solo exhibitions in 1970 and 1972 at Max Hutchinson Gallery, New York, she was represented by the prestigious Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1975 simultaneous solo exhibitions of Aylon’s works took place at the Betty Parsons Gallery on 57th Street and at the Susan Caldwell Gallery in Soho. Parsons presented Aylon’s work in a second one-person show at her gallery in 1979 and also at 112 Workshop.
Aylon has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards including three awards from the Pollock Krasner Foundation, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.
Works by Helène Aylon have appeared in solo and group shows in museums and galleries throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel. are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Art Museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Jewish Museum, New York, the Morgan Library and Museum, and many other distinguished institutions and private individuals.
Helene Aylon: Elusive Silver will take place at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects from January 12 through March 2, 2019. Her work will also be seen in By Any Means: Contemporary Drawings from the Morgan, at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York (January 18 – May 12, 2019). Works by the artist will also be presented by Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects at The Independent art fair, New York, March 8–10, 2019.