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.

October 2014

Cover of the catalogue for Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound

Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound
Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Fourth Floor, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238
October 24, 2014–March 29, 2015

Bringing together sculptures and works on paper that span the eighteen years of her career, this much-awaited exhibition is the first survey of Judith Scott’s work that Matthew Higgs has described as “one of the most important bodies of work—‘insider’ or ‘outsider’—produced anywhere and under any circumstances in the past twenty years.”

Judith and her twin sister Joyce were born in Columbus Ohio. Judith was diagnosed with Down syndrome and considered retarded due to learning difficulties caused from undiagnosed deafness. At the age of eight she was tragically separated from her sister and spent the next thirty-five years of her life as ward in Dickensian institutions for the disabled and the discarded. Her art production began after Joyce decided to become Judith’s legal guardian and introduced her to a visionary studio-art program, the Creative Growth Art Center.

Judith Scott developed a unique and idiosyncratic method to produce a body of work of remarkable originality and visual complexity. Often working for weeks or months on individual pieces, she begun by pilfering and assembling together all sorts of objects; she then enveloped and intertwined them with miscellaneous threads, twines, strings, ropes, and fibers, somewhat protecting and concealing their core. As the art historian Lucienne Peiry says, her unconventional textile sculptures “are endowed with an intense power of expression: they resemble giant multicolored cocoons and … are evocative of magical fetishes” holding a special connection to life and death. Moreover, although it does not appear that her work was directed by intention, “these sculptures conceal a secret that their author always took great care to hide…. There is no doubt but that the sculptures themselves play an essential role in embodying the physical presence—that of ‘the other twin’—throughout the feverish act of creation. Judith Scott’s approach thus involved a process that may seem paradoxical because, on one hand, it consisted of dissimulating and concealing, and on the other hand, of growing and shaping…. The emotional and physical reunion with her sister led Judith Scott to recover an identity, and then to develop an intimate experience at a fantasy level where she sublimated the tearing apart of which she was a victim.”

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden
Stedelijk Museum
Museumplein 10, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
September 6, 2014–January 4, 2015

Closely examining key themes and motifs that Marlene Dumas has developed throughout her career, Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is the first major solo exhibition of her work in the Netherlands in twenty years. It is also the most comprehensive retrospective survey of her work in Europe to date. The title of the exhibition derives from the work The Image as Burden (1993) and refers to the conflict between the painterly gesture and the illusion of the painted image. The exhibition brings together almost two hundred drawings and paintings from private and museum collections throughout the world.

Dumas was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1953 and moved to Amsterdam after her studies at the Ateliers ‘63 in Haarlem. Today she is considered one of the most significant and influential painters. While often inspired by images found in newspapers and magazines, she has been renewing the meaning of painting in an era dominated by visual culture. Believing that the endless stream of photographic images that bombards us every day influences how we see each other and the world around us, she redresses this onslaught by focusing on the psychological, social, and political aspects of the image. Her intense, emotionally charged paintings and drawings address existentialist themes and often reference art-historical motifs and current political issues.

In addition to her most important and iconic works, the exhibition presents lesser-known paintings and drawings, including many works never before seen in the Netherlands, and a selection of her most recent paintings. While paying special attention to her early Amsterdam production (1976–82), the Stedelijk presentation features a number of exclusive highlights, such as a gallery devoted to drawings that have come straight from her studio, which have rarely been on public view, and the one-hundred-piece series Models from the collection of the Van Abbemuseum.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Grand Palais Galeries Nationales
Paris, France
September 17–February 2, 2015

Curated by Camille Morineau for the Grand Palais and traveling to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, this is a major retrospective of the work of Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the most popular and innovative artists of the previous century. Mapping the opposing and often conflicting forces of eros and thanatos, creation and destruction, joie de vivre and trauma, feminity and masculinity, that underpin her production and illuminating key aspects of her poetics and multifaceted politics, the exhibition brings together an incredible assortment of her prolific oeuvre in all the media that she worked—paintings, assemblages, sculptures, works on paper, films, theater settings, illustrated books, etc.

Already by the early 1960s de Saint Phalle had an unusually successful international career for a female artist of her time. Propelled by the outrageousness of her shooting events as well as the joie de vivre of her signature Nanas, her fame quickly transcended not only national borders but continents, often providing rare inspiration to other female artists as manifested by her inclusion, by Mona Gorovitz in a 1965 essay in São Paolo that highlighted the achievements of women artists. While honored with major museum shows, retrospectives, including a museum dedicated to her in Japan, both posthumously and while still living, the complexities of de Saint Phalle’s contribution to international postwar avant-garde and their diverse politics, including the feminism underpinning her work, have not yet been fully examined or appreciated. Her recent inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s sixties rooms acknowledges finally her place in postwar Neodada and Pop scene; yet the failure of this exhibition to be hosted in an American institution proves the ongoing resistance to embrace de Saint Phalle as a great artist rather than a beautiful woman or just the partner of Jean Tinguely, an exotic outsider, a commercially successful irrelevance, a naïve colorist or essentialist. Illuminating lesser-known bodies of works with feminist effects, such as her series Devouring Mothers, and accompanied with a catalogue that brings together leading scholars of postwar art, de Saint Phalle and feminist art—such as Amelia Jones and Sarah Wilson, in thorough investigation of all periods and aspects of her work, including her life and writings, the exhibition offers a serious reassessment of de Saint Phalle’s work and its importance.

De Saint Phalle was born in France to an upper-class family of aristocratic and Catholic Franco-American origins and raised in New York. Although educated for the “marriage market,” and briefly modeling, she turned decisively to art upon a nervous breakdown while leading an unconventional family life in France. In the early 1960s she left her children to devote herself to art, eventually joining Tinguely to an extraordinary creative partnership that outlived their relationship. In 1961 she was the only female artist accepted in the circle of New Realism in Paris for her shooting paintings, themselves a groundbreaking performative and participatory form of painting by gun, but the politics of her work were also welcomed as example of the Figuration Narrative. Around 1963 she rediscovered herself as a sculptor, channeling the protofeminist underpinnings of her multifaceted rebellion against patriarchal power to a critical investigation of the stereotypical role of the feminine in Western society as well as an empowering and celebratory reenvisioning of it through the grotesque and joyous bodies of her now signature Nanas. Complementing her own critical contemplation on maternity and motherhood, her pioneering film Daddy in 1973 (in collaboration with Peter Whiteread) debunked patriarchal power, daringly addressing and revenging a repressed childhood trauma, her violation by her father, that she would later continue to address in autobiographic writings. In interviews of the early 1960s, de Saint Phalle, however, was always describing one major driving dream of her practice since her first encounter of the work of Gaudí and Facteur Cheval: to make joyous sculpture gardens. Since the 1970s she indeed channeled her energy in making her dream a reality, with a true belief in the life-changing democratic power of joy-giving public art. Her magnum opus, The Tarot Garden (1978–98), is the ultimate proof of the ambition and vision, monumentality and complexities of her architectural sculptural oeuvre, but so are many homes, playgrounds, public fountains, and sculptural complexes around the world that unfold central themes of her mythopoetic imagination and its politics.

Mika Tajima: Total Body Conditioning
Art in General
79 Walker Street, New York, NY 10013
September 13–October 25, 2014

Art in General presents Total Body Conditioning,a new commission by the New York–based artist Mika Tajima. Invoking technologies developed to control and affect the body, the exhibition is presented as three scenes: display, work, and fitness. Each scene in the exhibition outlines bodily experiences in different time and space. Contexts change, while the human body consistently becomes a target of power, where individual practices of freedom are intertwined with modes of domination.

Born in Los Angeles in 1975, Tajima use sculpture, painting, video, music, and performance to investigate how material objects define the action and engagement of the performing subject in a constructed space.

Exhibited works include hot-tub painting, reverse spray enameled in saturated gradient colors. Created specifically for the exhibition, these objects are ergonomically molded to the human form, emphasizing how the body is articulated in relation to an object. Tajima will also present a new group of works from her Furniture Art series. This consist of spray-enameled transparent paintings that are subtitled based on diverse geographic locations that draw on the psychological and geographic associations produced by the affective names of industrial colors and paints.

In addition, the exhibition features Negative Entropy, a new series of abstract acoustic-woven textile portraits resulted from recordings at a Toyota car factory in Japan and a server collocation center. The recordings were translated into image files and later interpreted by a weaving designer into a tangible fabric. Many of the works in the exhibition are set to shifting lighting and sound sequences, among them, a sound collaboration between New Humans, a group with which Tajima has collaborated before.

Disobedient Objects
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL United Kingdom
July 26, 2014–February 1, 2015

The Victoria and Albert Museum presents Disobedient Objects, a pioneering exhibition that investigates the powerful role of objects in movements for social change. Focusing on the period from the late 1970s until now, a time of constant technological development and political challenges, the exhibition demonstrates how political activism drives toward a collective creativity that challenges standard definitions of art and design. Evidencing arts of rebellion from around the world, the object are mostly produced by “nonprofessional” makers that work collaboratively with limited and accessible resources, resulting in effective responses to complex situations.

Since many of the artifacts were loaned directly from activist groups, the objects exhibited were hardly ever seen in a museum before. This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to observe these Disobedient Objects within a contextual background that includes newspaper cuttings, how-to guides, interviews, and footage of the objects in action, along with the makers’ statement explaining how and why the objects were created.

The exhibition is organized in several sections, including the introduction of the design of activist objects in relation to four ways of effecting social change: direct action, speaking out, making worlds, and solidarity. From a tableau of three puppets used in protests against the first Gulf War by the politically radical United States–based Bread and Puppet Theater, to simple pamphlets, to hand-painted placards by gay-rights activists, to banners used in conjunction with social media—solidarity can be demonstrated by even the smallest objects.

The final part of the exhibition maps out every “visual” protest since 1979. The case studies include an installation of masks and posters by the Guerrilla Girls, the anti–death penalty Tiki-Love Truck by the artist Carrie Reichardt, and a project by the Barbie Liberation Organization, responsible for switching the voice boxes on hundred of toys, including talking GI Joe and Barbie dolls, a project that sparked a widespread discussion about gender stereotypes.

Katie Paterson: Future Library
Oslo, Norway

The Berlin-based artist Katie Paterson launched Future Library, her new public artwork that will unfold over the next one hundred years in the city of Oslo, Norway. From 2014 to 2114, Paterson, along the leading publishers and editors from Future Library Trust, will invite one writer every year to contribute a new text to a growing collection of the as-yet unpublished and unread manuscripts. The Future Library project has received its foundations as a gift from the City of Oslo: a forest in Nordmarka. There, Paterson planted one thousand new trees in May 2014. These trees will be cut down in 2114 in order to provide the paper on which the commissioned texts along a century will be printed as an anthology of books. Currently, Future Library exists as a limited-edition “certificate” print that entitles the holder to a copy of the anthology in 2114, an anthology of stories that will only be read beyond the lifetime of certificate holders, writers, and the artist herself.

Paterson (b. 1981, Glasgow) is known for her conceptually driven works that make use of sophisticated technologies. Her poetic installations evidence her philosophical engagements between people and their natural environment, an engagement that derives from an intensive and sensitive research and collaboration with specialists as diverse as astronomers, geneticists, nanotechnologists, and fireworks.

Paterson has named the prizewinning author, poet, essayist, and literary critic Margaret Atwood as the first writer to contribute to Future Library. Atwood has begun writing the first text that will be handed over at a special event to be held in May 2015. While the forest shows the slow growth of the trees and the library, inch by inch, year by year, Paterson’s work engages with the landscape, as a physical entity and as an idea. As Atwood stated when invited to be part of this endeavor: “This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years!”—a hopeful sense of reality that stands beyond the purely visible.

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