Tracing how women have been depicted in art history as objects of purity or desire, Diana Al-Hadid will exhibit new architecturally scaled sculptures riffing off timeworn female types at Madison Square Park in New York this May. Titled “Delirious Matter,” the show will be the first major outdoor public art project for Ms. Al-Hadid, a Syrian-born, Brooklyn-based artist, and will open in tandem with the presentation of her monumental 2012 sculpture “Nolli’s Orders” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
Known for her organic-looking plaster sculptures that can appear to be simultaneously eroding and growing, Ms. Al-Hadid is making two 14-foot-tall lacy wall fragments framed by hedgerows that create an outdoor room visitors can enter. One wall section is based on Hans Memling’s painting “Allegory of Chastity” (circa 1475), in which a woman with arms folded politely seems bound at the waist by a mountain that also looks like her skirt. The facing segment is modeled on “Gradiva,” a Roman bas-relief of a woman in midstride with swirling drapery that was elevated to a figure of fixation through the writings of Wilhelm Jensen and Sigmund Freud.
Using a signature process that she describes as “a blend of fresco and tapestry,” Ms. Al-Hadid painted her interpretations of these figures, which dissolve into drippy abstracted landscapes, using wet polymer gypsum tinted with pigment on her studio wall. Once dry, the material is peeled off and reinforced to make the free-standing walls.
“If you look back at old masters, you can extract a lot about the role of women, either encased in a giant pile of fabric or lounging horizontally — dead or fainting or sleeping,” said Ms. Al-Hadid. Three of her life-size headless figures on plinths, sited on smaller lawns around the park, will play off just such a woman in repose.
“Diana is a keen observer of historic works of art,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and senior curator of Mad. Sq. Art at the Madison Square Park Conservancy. “These figurative fragments pivot between ruin and regeneration.”