For more than six decades, American artist Ida Applebroog has continuously engaged with the polemics of human behavior, often exploring interrelated themes of power, gender, politics and sexuality in works that span and challenge the boundaries of her mediums. Her exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York, ‘Applebroog Birds,’ finds the 91-year-old artist advancing her trenchant political inquiry through avian portraits, paintings and sculptures all of which are ripe with symbolism relevant to 2020. This exhibition expands upon the ‘Angry Birds of America’ works she began making in 2016 and reaffirms her status as one of contemporary art’s most consistently inventive political image-makers.
A pioneering artist of the feminist movement since the 1970s, Applebroog constantly evolves her visual vocabulary and draws from a diverse array of themes, memories, and mass media sources. These range from her own genitalia to dolls and mannequins, to cartoon characterizations of people in her life, to fashion models and accouterment – and, most recently, birds.
In 2016, Applebroog became captivated by ornithology and John James Audubon’s skill at merging art and nature. She developed an interest in drawing birds nestled in trees. Quickly realizing that Audubon and other ornithologists work from taxidermal birds, Applebroog began collecting birds and reading ornithological books, eventually producing her own models in plaster and paint.
Her series ‘Angry Birds of America’ was developed during a time of grief and rage, expressed with new intensity in American politics: it was the year that saw the beginning of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, the concomitant rise of white nationalism and anti-immigration violence. Mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, the #MeToo movement, and women’s long suppressed anger at accepted sexual affront and assault in the workplace were brought into public focus. Some of Applebroog’s ‘Angry Birds of America’ works will be on view at Hauser & Wirth, having been presented at the Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland, in its 2019 exhibition ‘Ida Applebroog.’ Centered on Applebroog’s paintings and sculptures of dead birds, these works provide viewers with analogs for the underlying amalgam of violence and beauty that exist in the world around us, both natural and manmade.
Applebroog’s images and sculptures of birds depict a wide range of avian types.
Her ‘White Bird’ sculptures, inspired in part by Applebroog’s studio menagerie of stuffed birds, have the aspect of phantoms in flight, forms that seem to bob gently on unseen air currents, while the ‘Specimens’ works, innate and individually tagged, suggest findings from an ornithologist’s lab. The bird portraits on mylar similarly emit a feeling of taxidermy’s strange temporality. These works evolve from images that are printed with inks that the artist then manipulates by hand. Though the animal depicted in each work has expired, Applebroog’s skill in returning a carcass to life is in full view, creating a metaphor for contemporary political life in America and a call to action.
In an essay titled ‘Bird on a Wire,’ originally published in the Kunstmuseum Thun’s catalogue for Applebroog’s 2019 solo exhibition, art historian Jo Applin notes the irony that President Trump has his own, ‘ill-advised addiction to social media through which, like the proverbial caged canary, he tweets, and tweets, and tweets all manner of bizarre statements, unfounded allegations, and lies.’ In ‘Applebroog Birds,’ the artist’s portrait of a bald eagle – the national symbol of the United States of America – keeps company with a flock of dead birds.
An exhibition of Ida Applebroog’s ‘Mercy Hospital’ works is currently on view at the Freud Museum in London through the end of the year. In Spring 2021, Applebroog will be the subject of a major retrospective at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.
On the occasion of ‘Applebroog Birds,’ Hauser & Wirth will digitally screen the critically admired documentary ‘Call Her Applebroog,’ directed by the artist’s daughter, Beth B. The film will be available from 27 to 29 November on Hauser & Wirth’s website.
About the artist
A self-proclaimed ‘generic artist’ and an ‘image scavenger,’ painter and feminist pioneer Ida Applebroog has spent the past six decades conducting a sustained inquiry into the polemics of human relations. She explores themes of violence and power, gender politics, women’s sexuality and domestic space using images stylistically reminiscent of comics, at once beguiling and disturbing.
Applebroog first came to attention in New York in the mid-1970s, formulating her practice with a series of small self-published books, ‘Stagings’ of identical cartoon images presented in succession, evocative of flipbooks or film stills, which she mailed to other artists, writers and individuals. From this beginning, she developed an instantly recognizable style of simplified human forms with bold outlines.