How 20th Century Art Dealt With Wounding, Scarring, and Healing

May 23, 2020

Primarily under the influence of Freud’s revolutionary psychoanalyzes, the early 20th century artists started articulating the matters of psyche, as well as an array of different inner states to address pain or trauma. This particular interest culminated with the horrors of WW I, and only twenty years later with another global conflict that was marked by outrageous genocide, and ultimately the atomic bomb.

Ever since, artists have managed to find ways to present the unpresentable and articulate somehow the notion of trauma that keeps on repeating throughout the globalized world hungry for profit.

To investigate this phenomenon and show different aspects of the representation of trauma, The Warehouse Dallas, a contemporary art space in Texas, decided to host an exhibition titled Psychic Wounds: On Art & Trauma curated by Gavin Delahunty.

Robert Mapplethorpe - Self-portrait
Robert Mapplethorpe - Self-portrait, 1988. Gelatin silver print. The Rachofsky Collection. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

The Exhibition Concept

The curator’s starting point of this exhibition was the work of artist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher Bracha L. Ettinger who has been studying trauma from the perspective of psychoanalytic theory and feminism.

Namely, she claimed that "trauma is not based on loss and separation, instead, it discloses parallel strings of yearning for connectivity and an inescapable potential for hospitality and compassion towards the other." Ettinger introduced the term Matrixial to describe the method we can use to relate to the trauma of another and use it to recognize our co-humanity.

Furthermore, this renowned scholar underlines the art’s capability of transcending the standard channels of identification and empathy, and enable us to understand better the possibility of being affected by the pain and pleasure of other people, other times, and other histories.

Left Toshio Yoshida - BURN Right Lucio Fontana - Concetto spaziale
Left: Toshio Yoshida - BURN by CF No.29, 1954. Burnt wood. The Rachofsky Collection / Right: Lucio Fontana - Concetto spaziale, Attesa (Spatial Concept, Expectation), 1964. Waterpaint on canvas. The Rachofsky Collection. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

The Works

The installment includes ninety historical and contemporary artworks made by over sixty international artists with a significant number of loans from leading public and private collections. Starting from the generation of early painters like Alberto Burri, John Latham, and Kazuo Shiraga who tried to articulate the horrific experiences of WW II, to the 1980s production affiliated with the emergence of trauma studies (that tend to tackle the effects of the Holocaust, the nuclear age, sexual violence, and race and gender discrimination on humanity), to the contemporary observations by the 21st-century artists such as Anicka Yi, Oliver Payne María Berrío, and Xie Nanxing, this exhibition aims to provide a survey of the treatment of the historical trauma.

Karin Mamma Anderson - Gone for Good
Karin Mamma Anderson - Gone for Good, 2006. Acrylic and oil on panel. The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund

Psychic Wounds at The Warehouse Dallas

An extensively illustrated publication including essays written by the esteemed scholars among them Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Griselda Pollock, Bracha L. Ettinger, and Hal Foster, accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition was initially scheduled to be on display until November 2020, but due to the current state of affairs on a global scale, and the fact The Warehouse Dallas is still closed, Psychic Wounds: On Art & Trauma will be extended most likely until February 2021.

Featured images: Psychic Wounds: On Art & Trauma - Installation view, 2020. Gallery 7: work by Cathy Wilkes; Gallery 15: work by Marcin Dudek and Jonas Wood; Gallery 2: work by Carol Rama and Louise Bourgeois. All images courtesy of The Warehouse Dallas.

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