The Oval Court
Distributed for Afterall Books
An illustrated exploration of Helen Chadwick's erotic, playful, and fierce 1986 installation.
In 1986 the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London showed a new commission by the artist Helen Chadwick (1954–1996). What Chadwick conceived for the ICA exhibition explored her characteristic themes—the female body (her own), the aesthetics of pleasure, the material variety and wonder of phenomena—but took them in a new, flamboyant direction. In this illustrated volume, Marina Warner examines one part of Chadwick's installation, The Oval Court. This work was erotic, playful, and fierce; it showed imaginative ambition on an exceptional scale and a unique, piquant sensibility, both raunchy and delicate.
Despite the work's recognition as a feminist monument of rare intensity, it has rarely been shown or discussed since the author's catalogue essay for the original exhibition. Warner here reconsiders Chadwick's influence as an artist who helped to shift conventional aesthetics and transvalue despised, even abominated forms. Exploring the work's richly layered composition in light of intervening years, Warner shows how Chadwick's imagination has shaped many artists' ideas and ethics, and emboldened their adventures with materials.