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433_01 Figure 59Feature.jpg
Figure 59
April 9 – May 28, 2017
→ Hessel Museum of Art
Curated by
  • Pat Elifritz
Part of
Exhibition Category
Thesis Exhibitions

Magda Cordell McHale (1921–2008) was born in Nové Zámky, present-day Slovakia. As a young adult during the Second World War, she fled to Egypt, and later Palestine, where she worked for British Intelligence and the Free Czech Army. Following the war Cordell began painting, co-convening London’s Independent Group throughout the first half of the 1950s. She moved to the United States soon after, with her husband and collaborator, the artist John McHale (1922–1978). Together, they repositioned their work within the emerging interdisciplinary field of futures studies. Their unconventional scholarship addressed long-range global change in technology, ecology, the human body, and the built environment. For nearly forty years, Cordell remained committed to futurist research in sociology and design, though she never stopped painting.

Figure 59 is based on one painting by Magda Cordell McHale, from which its title is drawn. By way of an individual work, this exhibition addresses the problem of locating Cordell within, and beyond, movements of postwar art, urbanism, and academia. Made early in her career, the painting anticipated many of the issues occupying Cordell’s scholarship and studio work for years to come. Environment and cohabitation, broadly defined, and their material consequences for the body, were foremost amongst them. Comprised of a two-channel film based on the painting and an accompanying publication, Figure 59 calls for a more sustained inquiry into the life and ideas of Magda Cordell McHale. As she often quipped, to know where we’re going is to know where we’ve been.