Although I’ve known Tim Hawkinson’s work for years, he has been more of a “sleeper” than some artists of his stature. This current overview of his work at the Whitney is terrific in the chance it affords to consider the remarkable breadth and distinctive nature of the work. As Lawrence Rinder says in his introduction to the handsome book published in conjunction with the show, “Tim Hawkinson’s art is nothing if not idiosyncratic; the peculiarity and eccentricity of his art is legendary.”
Like most conceptually oriented artists, Hawkinson doesn’t limit himself in terms of medium, but tends to realize most of his work in sculptural form. In Rube Goldberg-like fashion, many of these pieces are mechanized, with their workings displayed as though in a technology exhibit. This automated aspect, sometimes paired with sound, also makes visible Hawkinson’s sense of humor, a quality that is sometimes created via the contradictions between his choice of object or material, and the sculpture’s function. A particularly delightful example of this is Hawkinson’s series of clocks. Among them is one that appears to be a hairbursh with a stray hair emerging which serves as its hand; another is a manila envelope whose brad closure serves to mark the hours and minutes. But it is his numerous works that refer to the body that are most moving here, ranging from his huge suspended Balloon Self-Portrait (1993) and continually morphing Emoter—a motorized inkjet print of his face whose planes constantly shift in placement like a Cubist painting in motion—to his surreal Untitled (Ear/Baby) (1989), an oval framed drawing of an ear, from which a fetus suspended from an umbilical cord appears to grow; and his wall-mounted record drawings, which recall Duchamp’s roto-reliefs. The drawings were made on slowly revolving disks, on which the artist used his right (melody) and left (rhythm) hands to create his responses to “My Favorite Things,” which plays on a music box in the gallery.