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Committee on Women in the Arts Picks for May 2015

posted by CAA — May 10, 2015

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.

May 2015

Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm
Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013
April 10–June 28, 2015

The Drawing Center presents Natalie Frank, The Brothers Grimm, in which Frank explores “eccentric narratives alive with sexuality and violence; stories in which the female characters in particular undergo vast emotional, physical, and intellectual transformations.” Presented in twenty-nine drawings made in gouache and pastel, Frank dissects the fairytales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm by focusing attention on the roles of women, recasting the complex feminist protagonists.

Frank, who began drawing from life at thirteen years old, began to quickly explore her own narrative in her drawing, exploring perversity, fetish, playacting, women, and the body, among other themes. Through the Grimm drawings, Frank said she was captivated by the politics of sexuality and magic. “They inspire a refreshing and new way for me to approach making a picture,” she commented in an interview with Bomb Magazine. “I want my paintings to take a lesson from my drawings: not to be illustrative, but to be more formally transgressive.” Each subject is cast in a surreal landscape, “engaging the intersection between body and mind, reality and fiction, the series can be seen as a contemporary feminist reimagining of a symbolist legacy.”

Installation view of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Frida Kahlo: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202
March 15–July 12, 2015

Presenting work by artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the Detroit Institute of Arts celebrates the connections between the city and two iconic Mexican painters, as well as the museum’s new ownership of the work after a tumultuous refinancing by the City of Detroit. Kahlo, in Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, takes on a much smaller but no less intense presence in the exhibition. On view is Henry Ford Hospital, painted after her miscarriage in July 1932, in which she depicts herself laying in a pool of blood on a floating bed, “disturbing symbols float above like surrealist balloons connected to umbilical cords,” including a fetus, two spinal columns, a snail, machinery, and a woman’s torso.

The year in Detroit was a turning point in the career of Kahlo as she matured into her artistic identity, creating a fierce personal style. The twenty-three pieces on view by Kahlo expose her work at the forefront of self-expression, focusing on her own life and her experiences—expressions that had never been painted before by any artists. “Frida began work on a series of masterpieces which had no precedent in the history of art—paintings which exalted the feminine qualities of endurance of truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering,” Rivera wrote later. “Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit.”

Also among the works by Kahlo on view is Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, in which the artist paints herself with a Mexican flag in one hand and a cigarette in the other at the divide between and industrialized scene from Detroit and symbols of her homeland.

Fouzia Najar: Semiotics of Islam: A Primer for Kuffar
Online Video
Run time: 7:07

Inspired by Martha Rosler’s film Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), Fouzia Najar presents Semiotics of Islam, using letters of the alphabet to present objects and terms from Muslim culture. The short, experimental film begins by projecting onto the body of the poet and actor, Adeeba Rana, news broadcasts highlighting the representation of Muslim culture through mainstream media. The film then proceeds from the letter A to demonstrate articles of clothing worn by Muslim women. As she reaches the letter H for “Hijab” Najar again projects political pundints onto Rana’s body as they discuss jihad in raised, frantic voices. In relationship to Rosler’s film, “the oppressive force on the woman in my piece is the media,” Najar explains in an interview with Apogee Journal.

In contrast to the news media’s frenetic use of the word jihad, when Najar reaches J for jihad, which she defines in a parenthetical subtitle as struggle, she films Rana quite calmly struggling to open a jar of olives.

“One of the biggest misconceptions with second-wave feminists, but also the mainstream media and the world think that Muslim women need to be saved. The problem is that they’re not giving Muslim women the agency to do it themselves,” Najar says in the interview. While her film is aimed at all audiences, she does leave references only for the initiated. For example, at the end of the film, as she thanks her mother, the text flashes three times in homage to the Prophet. Najar is ultimately not concerned with communicating everything to all audiences but allowing the audience to hear the divide between the mainstream understanding and hers when it comes to the semiotics of language.

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019
March 8–June 7, 2015

The Museum of Modern Art presents an immersive sonic and visual landscape of the multifaceted work of Björk. This retrospective exhibition of the Icelandic artist chronicles more than twenty years of a creative journey of sound, film, visuals, instruments, objects, and costumes that reflect her creative uniqueness and her collaborative style.

As an introduction, four instruments created to be used by Björk in Biophilia (2011) are scattered in the museum’s lobby. A gameleste, a pipe organ, a gravity harp, and a Tesla coil play songs at different points throughout the day. Perhaps the most impressive—installed in front of the Museum Sculpture Garden’s glass windows that enhances its appreciation—is a Gravity Harp that use the natural motion of four pendulums with eleven-string cylindrical harps on the ends.

On the Marron Atrium located in the museum’s second floor, two spaces have been constructed to house the artist’s videos. The first one is dedicated to Black Lake, a new sound and video installation, commissioned by MoMA, for a song from her new album Vulnicura (2015). After Black Lake, there is a black box, perhaps where the “soul” of the exhibition lies. Here viewers can feel immersed where the artist exposes her core in its most extreme and complete form: a loop screening of a retrospective in music videos, from Debut (1993) to Biophilia.

For the Songlines section, located in the third floor of the exhibition, a first come, first served booking is requested. Here each character unfolds through sound, objects, images, and fictional biographical narratives that unveil personal and poetic narratives, that draw on recurrent themes throughout Björk oeuvre, such as a feminist approach to the rural and urban landscape, nature, and technology. Bridging the experimental and the popular, the organic and the technological, the personal and the universal, Björk reminds us that these are all connected and essential in the journey of being an artist, the journey of being human.

As the project curator Klaus Biesenbach mentioned: “The ‘90s, my (and Björk’s) generation was all about relational aesthetics, it’s all about collaboration.” Tracing Björk’s seemingly instinctive and experimental journey for two decades, it become evident the sensitivity of a unique vision, a vision that reflects the confidence and trust exposed along her creative process.

Installation view of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (photograph by David Heald and © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10128
March 13–June 3, 2015

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014, the first museum solo exhibition by the Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian in the United States. The exhibition examines the artist’s creative practice during four decades, including many projects from Monir’s personal collection, and works that have not been displayed publicly since the 1970s.

Born in Qazvin, Iran, in 1924, Farmanfarmaian has spent her formative years (1945–57) and her exile during the Islamic Revolution (1979) in New York. In 2004, she returned to Iran, where she reestablished her studio and resumed working with some of the same craftsmen she had collaborated with there in the 1970s. Farmanfarmaian has been making art for seventy years and is still very much a practitioner. Her work combine the heritage of traditional Iranian craft, particularly that of architectural Islamic decoration, with the Western philosophies of Minimalism and abstraction that informed her contemporaries, artists friends like Frank Stella and Robert Morris.

Infinite Possibility includes works on paper, plaster and mirror reliefs, and large-scale mirror sculptures, installations that the artist refers to as “geometric families.” Her practice is characterized by a merging of visual and spatial experience along with the aesthetics of Islamic architecture and decoration. The artist stated that her work is largely based on geometry, a geometry that allows “infinite possibilities.” The exhibition also reflects Farmanfarmaian’s geometric vision in a domestic context, as the exhibition closes with an installation of double doors of frosted glass that she originally fashioned for her New York apartment in the 1980s.

As with many artists of her time, her life and creative process has been influenced by Iran’s political circumstances. In fact, her works on paper were originally born while the artist was deprived of her Tehran studio for a decade after leaving once again for New York when the revolution broke out. Farmanfarmaian, the most celebrated contemporary artist working in mirror mosaic, was and remains a pioneer abstract artist both as an Iranian and as a woman.

Helena Almeida: Inhabited Drawings
Richard Saltoun Gallery
111 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RY United Kingdom
March 27–May 22, 2015

Richard Saltoun Gallery presents Inhabited Drawings, the first London solo exhibition dedicated to the acclaimed and influential Portuguese artist, Helena Almeida. Born in Lisbon in 1934, Almeida was one of the leading women artists working in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. This exhibition presents a selection of works from her most iconic series from the period.

Inspired by the neo-concrete movement gathering momentum in Brazil under the charismatic leadership of Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, and following their desire to liberate color into three-dimensional space, Almeida began experimenting with ways of breaking with the boundaries of a canvas. The artist, who represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale in 1982 and 2005, has continuously questioned traditional media, exploring ways in which to interact with the pictorial bidimensionality by placing her body as the subject of her work. By “inhabiting” them, as the title of this exhibition suggests, Almeida performs sensitively choreographed movements in dialogue with simple, everyday objects. Using photographs—taken by her husband and collaborator, the architect Artur Rosa—as backdrops for pieces, the artist reflects on the perception and perennial nature of performance.

Almeida is not a photographer, and yet the majority of her work takes exhibiting form in black-and-white photography. She does not refer of her oeuvre as self-portraits, but virtually all of her artworks depict the artist over her forty-year career. She uses a particular shade of blue, a blue that is very similar to that of Yves Klein. For Study for Inner Improvement (1977), Almeida created a sequence of photographs in which she appears as if eating blue paint. Since the artist had in the past protested at Klein’s use of women as objects in his artworks, chewing up of Klein’s “dominated” blue, appears as a liberating act for women and artists everywhere. Furthermore, having grown up in Portugal under the right-wing regime of Antonio Salazar, Almeida has created artworks that were not just about physical liberation, but psychological emancipation as well.

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