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Wassaic’s Eve Biddle Shows Work in New York City

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The scene at the Davidson Gallery in Chelsea, N.Y.,  was as you might expect for an opening in Manhattan—bustling with artistic types, flowing with champagne, and bespotted with art both compelling and odd. Floating between the many friends, collectors, art students, and gallery-hoppers packed into the space was Eve Biddle, co-founder of the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, N.Y.. It was Biddle’s work, both sculpture and screenprint, that hung on the walls and rested on pedestals that evening, alongside the work of her late mother, Mary Ann Unger.

The exhibition, titled “Eve Biddle | Mary Ann Unger: Generations” was curated by Ylinka Barotto, who seamlessly interwove the work of both artists across the gallery’s two floors. Noticeably absent were labels that might normally indicate what was made by whom—few observers, however, had much difficulty. The works on display belonged distinctly to each artist, while also remaining deeply in conversation with one another.

That was one of the more striking elements of “Generations” — the way in which Unger and Biddle’s art was so clearly connected, and yet remained entirely un-subsumed by the other. In the case of “WONDERLAND ME, AUGUST 2021” and “UNTITLED,” two pieces that formally couldn’t be more different—one made of aluminum wiring bent into a lung-like shape, the other screenprint photography of a hand with black ribbons emanating outward—clever placement drew out their connection. In the twist of a tendril and the arc of a wire, an unmistakable kinship emerged.

Biddle gave much of the credit to Barotto for crafting an exhibition that emphasized those connections and spoke after the opening to how surprising and delightful it was to experience.

“I saw things that I had never seen before, even though they’d been literally right in front of my face every day… And I loved seeing those two pieces next to each other. [They emphasized] that idea of a conversation across generations and across time. I mean, my own kids influence my work, whether they’re actively collaborating or not. But that conversation continues even in death with my mom, because I still work with her work so much.”

Biddle spoke also to the significance that the exhibition had for her in her dual role as an artist, and as Unger’s daughter.

“It was very emotional. But really wonderful also. It was a relief, to have it feel like a two-sided conversation. It’s a strange thing, my mom died when she was 53, and I’m 40. So, I haven’t lived as long as she has, and I haven’t made as much work—but we’re sort of edging into this territory where we’re peers. Which is strange, you know?”

Unger passed away in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer when Biddle was just 16. In the ensuing decades, both the family and the Mary Ann Unger Estate, founded in 2008, have worked hard to reintroduce Unger to the art world. Those efforts have seen considerable success, Unger’s work is currently on display at, or in the collections of, The Whitney, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Brooklyn Museum, to name a few.

Of Unger’s works shown at the Davidson Gallery, there are a number that had never been exhibited before. A series of six vibrant watercolors, spotlighted on the second floor, was a particularly delightful example. Abstracted over landscapes both literal and more formless were images of interlinked bones, vascular systems, and other anatomy-adjacent shapes. Residing next to them was Biddle’s mystifying and compelling “NEW RELICS: 18 LINKS IN GLASS” a sculpture made of opaque glass, resembling a pile of interlinked Möbius strips, similar also to a heap of bones.

Here as before, the individual integrity and simultaneous intertwining of these two artists made for an engaging viewing experience.

“It was great because I did not have the experience of thinking, ‘Oh no, I accidentally copied Mom’s art.’ We all internalize stuff and spit it back out in a new way. That’s our job as creatives and artists and writers.”

On display as well that evening was the strong connection between Biddle and the hamlet of Wassaic. In the exhibition notes that accompanied the opening were attributions to Wassaic Project community members, who Biddle considers to be collaborators in her artistic practice.

“Almost all of my work that was shown was made in Wassaic. Either in my studios at Maxon Mills or in the print shop or in the barn or in collaboration with some of our master printers. I really think of the Wassaic Project as a radical collaboration… All of the fabricators that I work with, everyone’s name is there [in the exhibition notes], because they’re all part of the work.”

As the evening lengthened, and the small elevator ferried fresh batch after fresh batch of gallery-goers up to Davidson Gallery, the overwhelming sensation was of an opening run well and attended even better. Down the street, across the block, and all over Chelsea other galleries were having opening receptions as well—and the work of Biddle and Unger felt right at home among them.

“Eve Biddle | Mary Ann Unger: Generations” is on view at Davidson Gallery in Chelsea through Feb. 18th on Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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