Dorothy Iannone at the Berlinische Galerie: “This Sweetness Outside Of Time”

Affinities, Exhibitions, News Section, Women Artists & Hybrid Forms

May 27th, 2014



DOROTHY IANNONE: YOU WHO READ ME WITH PASSION NOW MUST FOREVER BE MY FRIENDS, a large compendium of exuberantly sexual and transgressive image+text works (drawings, paintings, artist’s books, and writings) that traces Iannone’s decades-long pursuit of “ecstatic unity”—from the carnal to the spiritual, will release from Siglio this fall.


From the exhibition description:

The American Dorothy Iannone (b. 1933) occupies a distinct place as an artist in the second half of the twentieth century. Her œuvre, which now spans more than fifty years, includes painting and visual narrative, autobiographical texts and films. Since the 1960s she has been seen as a pioneering spirit against censorship and for free love and autonomous female sexuality. She continues to go her own way without compromise, artistically and conceptually.


Thanks to curator Dr. Annelie Lütgens and the Berlinsche Galerie for permission to reproduce the following images and essay excerpts.













from “Language of Love” by Michael Glasmeier


Her artist’s books are an extraordinary melding of the literary inspiration of a trained literary scholar and poet with their inherent medium. I’m frequently uncertain which I should marvel at more: the elegance of her texts, which are capable of speaking as easily in the erudite tone of a Sappho, the Bible, or the sonnets of Shakespeare as in the idioms of daily life and of obscenity—or the compositional design in combination with diverse visual worlds. Since Walt Whitman, an alternation among disparate tones of voice can be found in American literature, for instance in the writing of Frank O’Hara, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg; yet with Iannone, they encounter the congenial mixture of styles in her complex imagery, from concise illustrative forms to transformed iconic citations to visual motifs and superstructures in religious settings. On the textual level, two procedures can be differentiated in general: the painted or drawn sequence of lettering in lovingly designed capital letters, and a handwritten, usually longer text that is concentrated in a panel—whether a frame, a page, or the surface of a box—or proliferates with the ornamentation, as for instance in Sunday Morning (1965), in which the first verses of the “pagan” poem of the American poet Wallace Stevens, whose work unfortunately remains largely unknown in Germany, are interwoven, as it were, with the image. It was Stevens, a friend of Walter Arensberg and an acquaintance of Marcel Duchamp, who in a 1951 lecture analyzed the poetic equivalence of art and literature in interpreting reality at the frontier of mysticism.(1)

Yet, apart from early exceptions, Iannone is her own poet, defining the relations of text and image from case to case, whereby it is necessary to differentiate the kinds of texts and imagery she uses. Poems, free verse, anecdotes, stories (mostly autobiographical), exhortations, prayers, litanies, lists, and parodies come into play. This finely nuanced abundance of linguistic talent, which dazzles in all the registers mentioned above, acts autonomously in relation to the pictorial space, compliantly or defiantly, whereby a more detailed analysis might establish that the text-image-space relations are in each case quite precisely and patiently plotted. Iannone is a master of composition as she equilibrates with this difficult mix of elements. Filling the surface with lettering, image, and ornament may well have ethnological roots, yet this uniting of copying and picturing activity, in her paintings as well, reminds me of the production of medieval monks. It has contemplative, ascetic features that refer back to ideas about of “the art of living” in classical antiquity.(2) Iannone stands out among her contemporaries, for it is not a masterfully sweeping stroke or concept that defines her art, but rather a kind of “self-lessness” in the process of production,(3) which can be described as a form of “spiritual practice”(4) toward an exquisitely illuminated unity; and the apparent spontaneity stands in contrast not merely to the contrarian message of her images. Vive la différence!













from “It Is Not Too Late to Remember Who I Am” by Annelie Lütgens


Dorothy Iannone came to Berlin as a mature and experienced artist. She had an early body of abstract-expressive work behind her, had produced a variety of artist’s books and multiples that established her own original form of storytelling using both text and images and, since the early 1970s, had integrated singing and video into her art.

Despite Pop Art and the sexual revolution in both art and society, the subject matter of her art (to be treated in greater detail elsewhere)—everyday intimate dialogues, longing, desire, idealization of the beloved from the stance of a sexually aggressive and self-confident woman—was new and apparently offensive. Iannone dealt with this with far more assurance that most of her female comrades of the women’s liberation movement who, myself included, went to bed with books like Verena Stefan’s Häutungen or Anja Meulenbelt’s Die Scham ist vorbei, and had begun to bid farewell to “Prince Charming.”(5)

In the German Federal Republic, a reappraisal of historical art and an assessment and appreciation of the contemporary positions of women artists had only just begun. In 1977 West Berlin was the showplace for the first survey exhibition Künstlerinnen [Women Artists] International 1877–1977, which was organized for the NGBK [New Association for Visual Art] by a group of practicing artists and scholars. Dorothy Iannone would have belonged in this show, alongside Judy Chicago, Martha Rosler, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Helen Frankenthaler. But the opportunity was wasted.(6) A similar thing happened in 1987, when Dorothy Iannone appeared—with a graphic work from the Artothek—in just a small corner, figuratively speaking, of Verborgenen Museum [Hidden Museum], an exhibition devoted to women’s art in Berlin’s public collections, which once again was organized by women artists and scholars and which published a companion volume on eleven contemporary women artists.(7) The Museum of Prints and Drawings of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation did acquire a major work in 1987, the 35-part drawing series The Berlin Beauties from 1977/78, but it was only inventoried the following year, in 1988. And in 1990, the Berlinische Galerie acquired the early work Remembered Child from 1961. So much for Dorothy Iannone’s presence in Berlin’s public collections.(8) In the 1992 show Profession ohne [without] Tradition, a survey exhibition celebrating 125 years of women’s art and the 125thanniversary of the founding of the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen [Association of Women Artists], again organized by a team made up primarily of women, Iannone likewise does not turn up in the array of contemporary positions. The exhibition Erzählen [Storytelling], with works by eleven women artists and photographers working in Berlin, was shown at the Academy of Arts in 1994. Dorothy Iannone, whose works embodied the theme like no other, was suggested by the curator, yet due to pressure from a few women artists, she was not included in the show.(9)













1. Cf. Wallace Stevens, “Die Beziehung zwischen Dichtung und Malerei” [Relations Between Poetry and Painting] in Stevens, Hellwach, am Rande des Schlafs. Gedichte, ed. Joachim Sartorius, Munich 2011, pp. 319333. The poem “Sunday Morning” also appears in this book (pp. 4857).
2. Cf. Sabine Mainberger, Schriftskepsis. Von Philosophen, Mönchen, Buchhaltern, Kalligraphen, Munich 1995.
3. Ibid., p. 19.
4. Ibid., p. 27.
5. Cf. Verena Stefan, Häutungen. Autobiografische Aufzeichnungen, Munich 1975 [Shedding, Feminist Press CUNY, 1994]; Anja Meulenbelt, Die Scham ist vorbei. Eine persönliche Geschichte, translated from the Dutch by Birgit Knorr, Munich 1978 [Shame is Over, Women’s Press 1980]; Svende Merian, Der Tod des Märchenprinzen. Frauenroman, Hamburg 1980.
6. On the impact of the exhibition and its fall into obscurity see the interview with Silvia Bovenschen and Sarah Schumann and other artist interviews in Frieze d/e, April–May 2013, pp. 92-105.
7. Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst e. V. (ed.), Das verborgene Museum. Dokumentation der Kunst von Frauen in Berliner öffentlichen Sammlungen, exh. cat. NGBK, Berlin 1987, p. 299.
8. Three works—a painting, a painted table, and a Singing Box, which entered the collection of the Hamburger Bahnhof with the bequest of the Mike Steiner Collection in 1999—augment this meager yield.
9. Cf. Michael Glasmeier (ed.), Erzählen. Eine Anthologie, publication for the exhibition Erzählen in the Academy of Arts, Berlin 1994.