CAA News Today

Each month, CAA’s Committee on Women in the Arts selects the best in feminist art and scholarship. The following exhibitions and events should not be missed. Check the archive of CWA Picks at the bottom of the page, as several museum and gallery shows listed in previous months may still be on view or touring.

December 2013

Installation view of Harmony Hammond’s work at Alexander Gray Associates (artworks © Harmony Hammond)

Harmony Hammond
Alexander Gray Associates
508 West 26th Street, No. 215, New York, NY 10001
October 23–December 7, 2013

The first one-person exhibition of work by Harmony Hammond in New York since the 1990s at Alexander Gray Associates is a must-see minisurvey and a reminder that a retrospective of this feminist- and queer-art pioneer, activist, writer, and cofounder of A.I.R. Gallery and Heresies in the city where she began her career in the late 1960s, before moving to New Mexico in the 1980s, is still overdue.

In one of her statements Hammond reminisces that: “the post-modern focus on representation, contributed to an inaccurate reading of the creative climate in New York during the late 1960s and ’70s, a period of interdisciplinary experimentation that resulted in work both conceptual and abstract. Artists moved between the disciplines ignoring, crossing, dissolving boundaries. Abstract painting, especially that coming out of post-minimal concerns of materials and process, was central to the experimentation…. Feminism brought a gendered content to this way of working. I moved to New York’s Lower East Side, and then to the corner of Spring and West Broadway in early fall 1969. It was a period of civil rights and antiwar activism, the gay liberation movement, the second wave feminist movement, and the birth of feminist art. I was influenced by and contributed to early feminist art projects. I painted on blankets, curtains, and bedspreads recycled from women friends, literally putting my life in my art. Rag strips dipped in paint and attached to the painting surface hung down like three-dimensional brushstrokes, their weight altering the painting rectangle. Eventually the rags took over and activated the painting field…. This led to the series Bags, and the slightly larger than life-size Presences. These new pieces could be touched, retouched, repaired, and, like women’s lives, reconfigured. In 1973, I created a series of six floor paintings made out of knit fabric my daughter and I picked from dumpsters. Strips of fabric were braided according to traditional braided rug techniques, but slightly larger and thicker in scale, coiled, stitched to a heavy cloth backing, and partially painted with acrylic paint—the ‘braided rug’ literally and metaphorically becoming ‘the support’ for the painting. The Floorpieces occupied and negotiated a space between painting (off the wall) and sculpture (nearly flat). Placed directly on the floor they called into question assumptions about the ‘place’ of painting.”

Focusing on her longstanding commitment to process-based abstraction, the exhibition includes paintings and works on paper from the past five decades, with a focus on recent paintings and sculptures, allowing a fresh consideration of the way activist concerns and queer identity is inscribed in her work.

Martha Wilson: Staging the Self
Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series at the Douglass Library Galleries
Rutgers University, 8 Chapel Drive, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
October 21, 2013–January 31, 2014

Named the 2013–14 Estelle Lebowitz Visiting Artist in Residence for the Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series, Martha Wilson is the honorary subject of the exhibition Martha Wilson: Staging the Self, organized by the founding directors of the Institute for Women and Art at Rutgers University, Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, and featuring primarily early work, namely Wilson’s famed photo-text series A portfolio of models.

Born in 1947, Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and gallery director, belatedly recognized for her innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity through roleplaying, costume transformations, “invasions” of other people’s personae and the “camera’s presence.” She began making these works in the early 1970s while in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and further developed her practice after moving to New York in 1974. Two years later Wilson founded and continues to direct Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion, and preservation of artist’s books, video, and installation, online, and performance art, “challenging institutional norms, the roles artists play within society, and expectations about what constitutes acceptable art mediums.” As a performance artist she founded and collaborated with Disband, the all-girl conceptual punk band of women artists who couldn’t play any instruments; she also impersonated political figures such as Alexander M. Haig Jr., Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Tipper Gore.

Wilson has been described by the New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s” and was championed early in her career by pioneering critics such Lucy R. Lippard. Yet while prefiguring notions of gender performativity as theorized by Judith Butler and explored by Cindy Sherman, Wilson’s prefeminist strategies of masquerade were marginalized, and her use of her own body often caused her to be written out of the history of Conceptual art, an area in which she radically intervened during the 1970s from the perspective of a woman. Tellingly, Wilson had her first solo exhibition in New York at Mitchell Algus Gallery, Martha Wilson: Photo/Text Works, 1971–74, only in 2008.

Isa Genzken. Disco Soon (Ground Zero), 2008, synthetic polymer paint on plastic, cardboard, mirror, spray paint, metal, fabric, hose lights, mirror foil, printed sticker, wood blocks, fiberboard, and casters, 86 1/4 x 80 11/16 x 64 15/16 in. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection (artwork © Isa Genzken; photograph provided by the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin)

Isa Genzken: Retrospective
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019
November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014

Isa Genzken: Retrospective is the first comprehensive retrospective of the German multimedia artist in an American museum and the largest survey of her work to date. Surprisingly embraced by MoMA, Genzken has been both a controversial and an influential figure in German art of the past thirty years, appreciated mostly outside her country and known as much for her work as for her marriage with Gerhardt Richter, her Nazi family background, and her self-destructive lifestyle (due to mental illness and alcoholism). Capitalizing idiosyncratically on found objects and collage, this exhibition features Genzken’s small- and installation- scale works that have helped to redefine contemporary assemblage. The artist, however, has worked in many media over the past forty years, including painting, photography, collage, drawing, artist’s books, film, and public sculpture. She begun in the 1970s with geometric curved sculptures from wood whose often-ellipsoid shape could reference the theosophic investigations of her grandfather. The cement sculptures she initiated in the 1980s remain an incredibly powerful chapter of her work and interweave her constant interest in architecture with the “metaphors of vulnerability” that play a central role in her art making, according to the Der Spiegel critic Ulrike Knöfel. Bringing almost 150 objects shown in the United States for the first time, this retrospective offers a thorough introduction to the artist’s work, as well as to the role of “minimalism and trash, neon and despair” in it, as the same critic observes. After its run at MoMA, the show will travel to museums in Dallas and Chicago.

KIMSOOJA: Unfolding
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street, Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6Z 2H7
October 11, 2013–January 26, 2014

Constantly addressing issues of the displaced self and conditions of humanity, Kimsooja “experiments with various media through immobility and non-doing that inverts the notion of the artist as the predominant actor and maker.”

Born in Daegu, Korea, Kimsooja is based in New York, Paris, and Seoul and came to international fame in the 1990s following a P.S.1 residency in New York. This period paved the way for some of her most signature pieces: Bottari, Cities on the Move—2727km Bottari Truck, and A Needle Woman, shown in numerous exhibitions and biennales around the world. Bottari Truck consisted of a truck loaded with bottari, the Korean word for bundle, which traveled throughout Korea for eleven days. Replaced by bags in modern society, as the artist has recently said, “Bottari is the most flexible container in which we carry the minimized valuable things and its use is universal through history. We keep precious things, mostly in dangerous zones of our life, such as war, migration, exile, separation or a move where urgency take places. Anyone can make Bottari…. however, I’ve been intentionally wrapping it with used or abandoned Korean bedcovers that were made for newly married couples with symbols and embroideries and mostly wrapping used clothing inside—that has significant meanings and questions on life. In other words, the Bottari I wrap is an object that contains husks of our body wrapped with a fabric that is the place of birth, love, dream, suffering and death—a frame of life. While Bottari wraps bodies and souls, containing past, present, and future, a Bottari truck is rather a process than a product, or rather oscillating between the process and the object that is a social sculpture. It represents an abstraction of personage, an abstraction of society and history, and that of time and memory. It is a loaded self, a loaded others, a loaded history, a loaded in-between. Bottari Truck is a processing object throughout space and time, locating and dislocating ourselves to the place where we came from, and where we are going. I find Bottari as a womb and a tomb, globe and universe, and Bottari Truck is a bundle of bundle of bundle folding and unfolding our mind and geography, time and space.”

Following the Bottari Truck project, Kimsooja started a video performance called A Needle Woman, showing the artist from the back standing in the middle of main thoroughfares in various cities throughout the world. This work further developed the concept of sewing toward abstraction, bringing together people, nature, cultures, and civilizations.

As a broad survey that includes early textile-based pieces from the 1980s to large site-specific installations as Bottari Truck and videos, this exhibition highlights works that address notions of time, memory, and displacement in the face of change and social flux, and of the relationship between the human body and the material world.

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