Virgil Marti: For Oscar Wilde

"For Oscar Wilde" was made to commemorate the centennial of Wilde's trial and imprisonment. The installation was designed as a series of tableaus with increasing degrees of abstraction, in accord with Wilde's ideas about the superiority of the artificial over the natural. Wilde spoke of the sunflower and lily as being the natural forms best suited to design; so the viewer moved from a patch of live sunflowers growing outside, to a field of silk lilies in the cellblock, to a cell wallpapered with those motifs. Ironically, the design of Eastern State Penitentiary somewhat resembles a flower.

I have no first-hand experience of prison, so I felt it would have been offensive to conjecture what that would be like. However, I did always find Eastern State very beautiful. What does it mean to have an intense aesthetic experience in such an awful place? This seems related to the terrible irony of Wilde's life - preaching aestheticism as beyond conventional morality and ending up in prison.

Rather than rely solely on the poetics of decay in the penitentiary, I chose to insert something new and pristine in jarring contrast with the surroundings.

Wilde wrote, in letters from prison, that he found the white walls to be one of the most dehumanizing aspects. In an attempt to redress this complaint, I refurbished a cell for him and wallpapered it. Wilde's association with wallpaper is best-known through his alleged deathbed quote: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." While researching, I came across another: "Modern wallpaper is so bad, that a boy brought up under its influence could allege it as a justification for turning to a life of crime."

"For Oscar Wilde.", 1995.
Live sunflowers, ceramic plaque, silk lilies, handprinted wallpapers (pigment on paper-backed cotton sateen), cotton velveteen, iron bed.
Documentation of an installation at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia.
Overall dimensions: variable.
Cell dimensions: 106" H x 96" W x 216" D

(click on each image for a larger version)
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1990 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Summer
1990 Tyler School of Art, Temple University, M.F.A. Painting
1984 School of Fine Arts, Washington University, B.F.A. Painting
2005 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship
2003 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship
1997 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship
1995 Pew Fellowship
2004 Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York
2003 Project Room, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA
The Flowers of Romance, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA
2002 Grow Room, Participant Inc., New York
2001 Morris Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
2000 Beer Can Library, Habitat, London, England
1999 Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
1998 Hot Tub, Thread Waxing Space, New York
1996 White Room, White Columns, New York
2004 Whitney Biennial 2004, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Flowers Observed, Flowers Transformed, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA
What's New?, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Social Studies, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
2003 NYPD, Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
On the Wall: Wallpaper and Tableaux, Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
On the Wall, Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence, RI
2002 Imprint, The Print Center and various sites, Philadelphia
MATERIAL WORLD From Lichtenstein to Viola 25 Years of the Fabric Workshop
   and Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia
Officina America, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy
View Finder, Arnolfini, Bristol, England
2001 Miss World 1972, Daniel Reich, New York
Stand Fast Dick and Jane, The Project, Dublin, Ireland
2000 Gardens of Pleasure, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI
1999 Natural Dependency, Jerwood Gallery, London, England
1997 Apocalyptic Wallpaper, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH
1996 You talkin' to me?, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
1995 Prison Sentences: The Prison as Site/The Prison as Subject, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design
Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College
New Museum
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art
Victoria and Albert Museum
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