Press Release

First U.S. Museum Retrospective of Influential Artist Ree Morton in Over Three Decades Opens Fall 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

Survey Features Over 40 Works, Including Rarely Seen Seminal Installations, Shedding Light on Morton’s Short but Prolific Career 

Opening on September 14, 2018, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA) will present the first major retrospective in the U.S. in nearly forty years of pioneering artist Ree Morton (1936 – 1977) before it begins traveling across the United States. Spanning the last decade of her artistic production before her untimely death, Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison (on view until December 24) will feature her most significant work, comprising over 40 drawings, sculptures, paintings, and installations. Steeped in autobiographical references and memories, the exhibition provides a unique opportunity to connect to a ground-breaking artist whose radical infusion of narrative, color, craft, theatrical imagery, and humour expanded the boundaries of the post-minimalist movement she was rooted in, influencing younger generations of artists and forging a feminist legacy. In advance of the exhibition, artists, curators, and scholars will gather for “Using the Self to Imagine the World”—a two-day symposium taking place at ICA on March 16 and 17 dedicated to reexamining Morton’s enduring impact. 

“This exhibition marks the first time in generations that audiences in Philadelphia and from across the U.S. will have an opportunity to experience the captivating and innovative work of Ree Morton. This city formed an integral role in shaping and developing Morton’s practice and career, first as a student and then as a teacher at the Philadelphia College of Art, and ICA was an early and avid supporter of Morton, creating a collaborative relationship that included commissioning and exhibiting her work in the early 70s,” said Amy Sadao, Director of ICA.  “The Plant That Heals May Also Poison reflects our commitment to illuminating the pioneering work of underrecognized artists whose work merit reappraisal and placing them within a new, contemporary context.”  

Defying easy categorization over the course of her short artistic career, Ree Morton spent several years in Philadelphia after earning an MFA in 1970 from the Tyler School of Art at the age of thirty-three before moving to New York. She split her time between teaching classes at the Philadelphia College of Art and exhibiting alongside artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark, Scott Burton, Jacqueline Winsor, Bill Bollinger, and Barbara Zucker, trying to make her own way as an artist. Her unique style quickly earned her critical acclaim and comparisons to other post-minimalist artists, such as Lynda Benglis and Eva Hesse. In the fall of 1975 Morton relocated to San Diego for a one-year visiting position at the University of California, where the development of the personal content of her work was increasingly influenced by the local feminist movement.  Shortly after, Morton moved to Chicago, where she cultivated a reputation as both a leading practitioner and teacher before her tragic death in a car accident in 1977. Distinctive regional elements woven into her pieces, such as Bozeman, Montana (1974) and the Regional Pieces (1976), act as tactile representations of the strong connections she formed to different locations and cities throughout her lifetime.

“This survey marks an important moment to appreciate and understand the work of Ree Morton, who has been widely recognized as ‘an artist’s artist’ and whose impact on contemporary practitioners has directly influenced the work of many, despite her lack of greater public renown” said Kate Kraczon, the Laporte Associate Curator at ICA. “I first uncovered Ree’s direct connection to ICA while reviewing archives from the ICA’s 1973 Made in Philadelphia exhibition in preparation for the museum’s landmark 50th anniversary exhibition. I’ve been studying Ree’s work closely in the half-decade since.”

The Plant That Heals May Also Poison will invoke the playfulness and multidimensional elements of Ree’s work, presenting a range of seminal pieces that capture her exploration of themes of love, domesticity, childhood, and maternity, and her unexpected experimentation with textures, man-made and natural materials, signs, and symbols, revealing her ingenious transitions between post-minimalism and the decorative. Additionally, the exhibition highlights a notable change in her work—the incorporation of words and personal narratives, as well as her discovery of celastic—a fabric that could be shaped when treated with solvent and hardened when dry, which allowed her to fully embrace the decorative in her work. 

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Sister Perpetua’s Lie (1973) – A sculptural installation that was commissioned and exhibited by ICA in 1973 and inspired by Raymond Roussel’s experimental 1932 novel ‘Impressions of Africa.’
  • Souvenir Piece (1973) – A deeply personal installation work that uses graphic and tactile elements to evoke the memories of a summer Morton spent with her children in Newfoundland. Split into two sections after it was originally exhibited in the 1970s, this show reunites the work for the first time in decades. 
  • The Plant That Heals May Also Poison (1974) – This key piece will be positioned at the opening of the gallery and exhibited on vivid and carefully constructed animal-patterned wallpaper that evokes Morton’s original display. 
  • Signs of Love (1976) – An expansive, sentimental, and sprawling multi-media display that marks her increasing affinity for the decorative.
  • Manipulations of the Organic (1977) – Morton’s final completed work before her untimely death. The piece demonstrates a renewed interest in returning to a more minimalist aesthetic seen earlier in her career and was inspired by Louis H. Sullivan’s 19th-century writings on decoration.


The inaugural Sotheby’s Prize recently awarded Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison a commendation out of 92 entries from institutions in 15 different countries. Following its premiere at ICA in Philadelphia, the exhibition will travel across the United States. 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with a scholarly essay by the curator, commissioned texts, and a biography of the artist, marking the first comprehensive catalogue on Ree Morton produced by a U.S. institution since her show at the New Museum in 1980. 

The Plant That Heals May Also Poison is organized by ICA and will be curated by Kate Kraczon, the Laporte Associate Curator.  This exhibition will be the inaugural show supported by an endowed curatorial fund founded by Daniel W. Dietrich, II that enables ambitious curatorial projects and programming.  


On March 16 and 17, Using the Self to Imagine the World places a spotlight on the life and practice of Ree Morton, with participants including Tang Museum Director Ian Berry; artist Nayland Blake; art historian Sabine Folie; Alexander and Bonin Gallery Director Kathryn Gile; Founder and Principal of Art Agency, Partners, and Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division Allan Schwartzman; and Director of Exhibitions at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia Sid Sachs. Free and open to the public, the symposium is organized by Kate Kraczon, Laporte Associate Curator; Lauren Downing, Curatorial Assistant; and Tausif Noor, Spiegel Wilks Curatorial Fellow, all at the Institute of Contemporary Art. A full program and additional information can be found here:

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Ree Morton, The Plant That Heals May Also Poison, 1974; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania © Estate of Ree Morton

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