essay written by Mary Murray. Curator, Munson Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, New York
Cheryl Pelavin Fine Arts is pleased to announce Tender, the second solo exhibition of Marion Wilson’s work. Marion Wilson is an artist who engages the physical, the spiritual and the financial side of being human and being an artist. These are the same principles that guided her in her collaboration with homeless men served by the Bowery Mission last summer when she was invited to participate in the summer 2004 exhibition Counter Culture, organized by the New Museum as a walking tour of the Bowery to introduce itself and its visitors to its future neighborhood. Wilson created This Store Too (inspired by Claus Oldenberg’s Lower East Side Store from circa forty-five years ago), in a collaboration of sorts with homeless men at the Bowery Mission. This Store Too was a pushcart whereby Wilson created small sculptures – inspired by a material donation (or purchase) from a street person – and operated a street business for six weeks last summer in collaboration with homeless men. Wilson then put the objects in a pushcart reminiscent of those used by vendors on 19th century Mott Street. Several days a week she pushed the cart, parking in front of various local businesses around the Bowery, and offered the objects for sale. All decisions for marketing and sales were made in conjunction with her collaborators and all of the profits were donated back to the homeless program and to the “business”. The purpose of the sale of the objects was not for financial profit but rather to make transparent the economy of street people and the economy of one artist.
In her second solo exhibition with Cheryl Pelavin Fine Arts, entitled Tender, Marion elaborates on ideas initiated with her street store. Wilson states that she is definitely making merchandise. “Tender’s “collection” (as in fashion) includes the vendor’s cart; monotypes Marion created with some of the Bowery Mission men in the gallery’s printshop, in which she incorporated her imagery with their texts, which can be at once straight-forward and poetic: “When you sleep on the street you don’t have dreams;” small change purses of translucent resin in which miniature figures enact funny, bizarre dramas; eccentrically crocheted scarves; meals with food comforted and protected within crocheted purses; survival kits; and hand-crafted soap that she gives to the homeless, who tend to use it not for bathing but to scent their belongings.
This past year in preparation for Tender, Wilson has continued to work closely with one of the Bowery men, Luis Guzman, in close artistic collaboration and as an artist assistant. The work in Tender, is a reflection of their close friendship, and what Wilson describes our shared needs for human creature comforts – “to have a bed to sleep in and not a chair”, “the ability to dream”, “to see one’s daughter”, and “something to do to stave off boredom”. Wilson goes beyond any preconceptions of what we may think it is like to be homeless and instead focuses on the small details of what it is to be human.
“The wordplay of the title, evoking monetary and emotional associations, suggests/indicates the breadth of interwoven concerns relevant to this project: the relationship between art and commerce (and, perhaps, the attendant disproportionate values between art and craft) as well as a celebration of human need coupled with resilience that generates unexpected wells/sources of creativity. These may seem especially grand ambitions for Tender’s seeming modesty, but therein lies its meaning of creating important spiritual connections with little material aid.”