From Forgotten Discards, a Wealth of Memories

These and other installations have some surface parallels with the sculpture of Cady Noland or Isa Genzken, though those artists’ fashion-conversant cynicism is miles from Ms. Wilkes’s baleful, historically minded sincerity. Here, stains, rust and rips humanize the impassive mannequins, and the frail, armless figure, of indeterminate gender, could have lived a thousand years ago. A more relevant antecedent may be the psychologically intricate art of Louise Bourgeois, on view concurrently at the MoMA mother ship, though Ms. Wilkes takes a less autobiographical, more open-ended approach than Bourgeois did.

Her most moving works are sculptures made of fabric or resin, begun around 2011, which depict stunted and vulnerable figures, often children, alone or in family groups. In an untitled cluster of three from 2012, perhaps a riff on the Holy Family, a child whose soft joints and frayed exterior recall a rag doll’s is crouching to wipe the face of a baby, while an older child, also shabby and scruffy, stands before a wash basin. A later sculpture of a single child, with spindly legs, wears a frayed green shift decorated with an Irish shamrock, but he or she appears fearful, defenseless, with eyes that are no more than awl marks.

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Some of the mixed-media figures Ms. Wilkes has sculpted and then arranged in family vignettes.

Credit
Pablo Enriquez/MoMA PS1

In the installation “Untitled (Possil, at Last),” first seen at the 2013 Venice Biennale — its title refers to an old Glasgow pottery factory — a mannequin of a drunken father squats in front of two children, amid stones, old beer bottles and pottery shards. The children seem more resigned than disturbed.

What seems paramount for Ms. Wilkes is that objects in an art gallery — whether soft sculptures or simple detritus — should register two ways at once: as exactly what they are, and as triggers…

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