Nicki Marx | Marx Contemporary
ON DISPLAY: SEPTEMBER 18TH-NOVEMBER 15TH, 2014
CO-CURATED BY KATIE NARTONIS OF BONHAMS AND GERARD O’BRIEN OF THE LANDING/REFORM GALLERY
THE LANDING AT REFORM GALLERY
6819 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
In 1977, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner called Taos-based artist Nicki Marx “one of the most highly-charged, deeply creative craftswomen west of the Mississippi.” Though she’d only started making art five years prior, by 1977 Marx had already had two solo museum shows and six solo gallery shows, and Marx herself had already garnered wide media attention.
Marx’s art practice, which began in the early 70s with a series of feather-based wearable pieces including dramatic necklaces, feathered capes and decorated vests, progressed quickly to large-scale canvases covered entirely with natural materials like feathers, bark, shells, dried flower petals and bones, and showed throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s at major galleries and museums nationwide, including inclusion in three group exhibitions in two years at the SFMOMA and a major commission from Stanford University. The 1990s saw a 25-year retrospective of Marx’s works at the Sun Cities Museum of Art.
After a 13-year break from making new wall works, Nicki Marx returned to creating feather-based wall pieces in 2009. Her upcoming show at the Landing will feature both vintage 1970s works like necklaces, collars and coats, and will also premiere a group of new feather-based works. The exhibition will include a selection of Marx’s wall-mounted feather assemblages in addition to its wearable pieces, and will also include some of Marx's wall-mounted feather encaustics, made with pigment-colored hot wax--a process Marx has been perfecting for twenty-five years.
Marx’s wearable works—which are made primarily of feathers but incorporate other natural materials—are stunning, dramatic and unmistakably hers. Wrote the L.A. Herald-Examiner in its 1977 profile on Marx, “Fellow sculptress Louise Nevelsom wears a feather cape by Nicki Marx when she chooses to make a particularly regal entrance, and artist Georgia O’Keeffe wears Marx’s breastplate of feathers titled “For Georgia.”
“The process of creating is a spiritual experience for me,” Marx told California Todaymagazine in October of 1974. “I sense sacredness and beauty in Mother Earth and believe the greatest art is found in nature. Feathers, to me, are sacred, and flight and birds are symbols of freedom.” Marx’s works have a shamanistic quality, one that calls to mind ritual adornment, and many of her wall pieces are in a mandala-like pattern.
In fact, Marx—who is self-taught—doesn’t make a sketch of her pieces before she creates them: she simply begins. She told the Palo Alto Times in 1976, “I don’t know where the ideas come from. They just appear without intellectualizing about them. When I’m really into my work I feel like an instrument. The ideas are flowing through me but they don’t come from me.” In an interview with the Desert Sun, she put it another way: “I’m the vessel through which my work happens.”
Marx lives in Taos, New Mexico, and her work is deeply imbued with a sense of that place. She told Arizona Living in 1976, “The colors/visuals, the total sensual experience that New Mexico is to me, is inseparable from my work. It is my life force, and is constantly exerting influence from one form or another.” (Marx began living full-time in New Mexico in 1985, after spending fifteen years there part-time. She was raised in Palm Springs and Los Angeles.)
In 1976, Marx spoke to the Phoenix Gazette about the years before she started making art. “I had dropped out for a while, spent two years in the mountains in New Mexico,” she said. “That prepared the ground; my work gives form to what I experienced there.”
“Marx is continuing to make work of exceptional power and beauty,” says Katie Nartonis of Bonhams, co-curator of the exhibition. “I think the rediscovery of Marx's work proves that there is still fertile ground to explore, and new stories to tell, when looking at the artists and craftsmen of the post-World War II West Coast studio art movement. I find this material to be extremely compelling, and this rediscovery to be incredibly exciting.”