The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, is pleased to present the first major exhibition of artist Ree Morton (b. Ossining, New York 1936; d. 1977) in the United States in nearly four decades. Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison was recently awarded a commendation by the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize.
Ree Morton produced a prescient body of work rich in emotion and philosophically complex. Long celebrated by peers and younger generations, Morton’s influence on contemporary art remains considerable yet muted, her legacy widely underrecognized. Gathered in this exhibition are works produced during her short but prolific career, which span and expand mediums and materials; reimagine tropes of love, friendship, and motherhood; and radically assert sentiment as a legitimate subject of artmaking.
Though the eclectic arc of Morton’s practice was rooted in Postminimalism, a poetic approach to language and symbolism progressively distanced her work from easy categorization. The inclusion of personal narrative—through literary, philosophical, and autobiographical references—and use of bold color and theatrical imagery infused her objects with sly humor and a concern with the decorative, generating a feminist legacy increasingly appreciated in retrospect. Morton’s conceptually rigorous work can seem esoteric at times, yet her intention is ultimately one of generosity towards the viewer, and it is this spirit of generosity, playfulness, and joy that this exhibition hopes to expand.
Morton’s practice was profoundly shaped by her time in Philadelphia, where she attended graduate school at the Tyler School of Art and taught for several years at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts). A major sculptural work, Sister Perpetua’s Lie, was created for a 1973 exhibition at ICA and is currently on view in this retrospective, along with other rarely seen installations. Often site-specific, these pieces were ephemeral in nature, many known only through documentation. The exhibition features several of these works, along with a selection of drawings, sculptures, paintings, and archival materials which span a single decade of artistic production before Morton’s untimely death in 1977.