Unsurprisingly, this commentary is not intended as a review, perhaps more a manifesto or plea for the artist’s grasp of her subject, stature and enduring importance. Whitworth have done well to acknowledge the importance of Alison Wilding’s unique voice and position as one of the true ‘greats’ of British art and sculpture over the past three decades.
Wilding’s work here is testimony to the kaleidoscopic nature of her outputs and of her extraordinary shared insights over an extended period. The works at Whitworth are another significant marker that denote vernacular and form that are serious, scholarly and mischievous by turns. In my view, Wilding is unsurpassed in being able to create a feeling of proximal intimacy through the unlikely collision of materials and their aligned physical disposition.
The works in steel, concrete, bronze, wood and fabric etc. are humanized through the combined accessibility of process and a quietly assertive confidence. We can see exactly what the artist has done and with what materials she has delivered, yet her magic is that we still cannot account for the effect of the work. For me ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘Dark Wood’ epitomise a near-devotional relationship to materials that reflect a darker and deeper comprehension, a comprehension and evocation beyond any such simple encounter with floorboards or concrete.
The mainstream press have on occasions, rather unkindly, dubbed Wilding ‘dour’ or ‘unforthcoming’ at interview, and one supposes that by comparison with the Hirst’s and Emin’s of the world, she probably is. Generationally and in terms of a temperamental disposition, Wilding really is more of a ‘sculptor’s sculptor’, broadly in line with a position most likely borne of UK art schools in an era of pre-postmodern teaching rooted in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; the art is therefore left to fend and speak for itself - and by implication the viewer also. Get over it and don’t look for the artist to always attribute the meaning and significance.
In Wilding’s work we witness a deep honesty and are offered a rare insight into a delicate, personal and materially-rooted practice which has proved over time. This is what happens when play, fascination and scholarship combine with hard-won creative wisdom. Through these and related objects, we can peer into Wilding’s world, a world which veers between mortal scariness, exquisite facture and strange meetings between stuff. Beyond the physical is the metaphysical, haunted product of the artist’s critical reflections on process and subject, we are probably lucky only to see the tip of this particular set of icebergs through her glass darkly. Neglect this exhibition and this artist and you miss something lasting and important.