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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.

February 2014

The CWA Picks for February 2014 are dedicated to the memory of Wanda D. Ewing (January 4, 1970–December 8, 2013), an artist and educator who lived and worked in Omaha, Nebraska, by her friends and fellow members of the Committee on Women in the Arts.

Jillian Mayer: Salt 9
Utah Museum of Fine Arts
University of Utah, Marcia and John Price Museum Building, Salt Lake City, UT 84112
January 17–August 17, 2014

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts presents the first museum exhibition of Jillian Mayer (American, b. 1984). Engaging the ubiquitous self, duping Google Image, or subverting facial-recognition software, Mayer’s newest body of work tosses aside the physical body to investigate modern identity formation. Identity, online and IRL, is a fluid performance of multiple selves in constant construction, but online there is no place, need, or value for the real body.

The mind, untethered by physical limits, can be free in its construction of identity. While presenting tools to maintain online identities, Mayer exposes moments when the virtual world defines the physical world, creating an alternate reality. In salt 9 she sets up scenarios, often using her own image, that call attention to how Web 2.0’s architecture of participation is changing perceptions of truth, privacy, authorship, and authenticity. By accepting the web’s uncontrollable context and by being open to malleable meaning, Mayer enlists an ever-expanding audience of collaborators and challenges the traditional relationship between artist and viewer, in which the latter becomes a participant, a collaborator, and even an active creator of content and meaning.

Doris Salcedo
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
February 21–May 31, 2015

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, presents the first survey of the work of the renowned sculptor Doris Salcedo (Colombian, b. 1958). Salcedo, who lives and works in Bogotá, gained prominence in the 1990s for her fusion of Postminimalist forms with sociopolitical concerns. The exhibition features all major bodies of work from the artist’s twenty-five-year career—most of which have never been shown together before—as well as the American debut of her recent major work Plegaria Muda (Silent prayer) (2008–10) and a site-specific public project.

Salcedo’s work is deeply rooted in her country’s social and political landscape, including its long history of civil wars, yet her sculptures and installations subtly address these fraught circumstances with elegance and a poetic sensibility that balances the gravitas of her subjects. She grounds her art in intense research and fieldwork, which involves extensive interviews with people who have experienced loss and trauma in their everyday lives due to political violence. In more recent years, Salcedo has become increasingly interested in the universal nature of these experiences and continues to pursue research in different locations, including Turkey, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States. Rather than making literal representations of violence or trauma, however, her artworks convey the idea of corporeal fragility and evoke a collective sense of loss. The resulting pieces engage with multiple dualities at once—strength and fragility, ephemeral and enduring—and bear elements of healing and reparation in the careful, laborious process of their making.

Güler Ates: Whispers of Colour
Kubik Gallery
Rua da Restauração, 2, 4050-499 Porto, Portugal
January 25–March 1, 2014

The central themes of gender, identity, and cultural hybridity are driving forces in Güler Ates’s practice, which examines how various settings can challenge and disrupt a person’s assumptions on these topics. The lone veiled woman is the central motif of her work, an ambiguous figure whose identity is consistently kept from the viewer.

While the veiled female figure is a recurring motif, it is the setting that informs her practice. Each series is site-specific in that Ates’s captures through photography the ways in which her figure interacts with each environment. Thus, by responding to her surroundings, her work explores the nuanced ways in which locale and context affect our interpretation of figures. This aspect works in tandem with the concept of performativity. An essential element to Ates’s work, this theme stems form Judith Butler’s seminal theory that such supposedly fixed concepts, such as gender, ethnicity, or nationality, are in no way fixed but are rather merely roles that we perform. Thus, while the repetition of our actions reinforces the identity to which those actions are associated, when the cultural context in which this performance takes place changes, so too does the identity. In her use of a veil, Ates interrogates what it means for a woman to be covered. She reclaims the female body by respecting the autonomy of the figure. In doing so, the artist is able to reclaim not simply the female body but also Orientalist imagery, thus creating highly charged images that are alluring yet defiant.

Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10128
January 24–May 14, 2014

Organized by Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, where it first opened in 2012, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video—the first major museum retrospective of the work of Carrie Mae Weems—finally comes to New York. Featuring more than 120 works—primarily photographs but also texts, videos, and an audio recording—and a range of related educational programs, the exhibition thoroughly traces the evolution of the artist’s career over the last thirty years, from her early documentary and autobiographical photographic series to later conceptual and philosophically complex works of global concerns. As such Carrie Mae Weems offers a great opportunity to explore the breadth of her practice and marvel at the visual poetics of her politics.

Having opened influential paths for younger generations of photographers with sociopolitical and gender concerns over the past forty years, Weems has sharply, movingly and beautifully contemplated issues surrounding race, gender, and class inequality. It is by positioning herself “as history’s ghost,” as put by Nancy Princenthal, that her work brings to light the ignored or erased experiences of marginalized people, even though the artist strives to propose a multidimensional picture of history and humanity, intended to raise greater cultural awareness and compassion. While Weems’s subjects are often African American, “Her work speaks to human experience and of the multiple aspects of individual identity, arriving at a deeper understanding of humanity,” as said by Mary Jane Jacobs.

Organized in a loose chronology throughout two of the museum’s Annex Levels, Carrie Mae Weems begins with the breakthrough series Family Pictures and Stories (1978–84) and brings together most landmark series of the artist’s photographic work. Also included, of course, is the celebrated Kitchen Table Series (1990), which employs text and photography and explores the range of women’s roles within a community, pointedly situating the photographs’ subject within a domestic setting and foregrounding the artist’s gendered concerns. The exhibition also looks at the role of video as a natural extension of Weems’s narrative photographic practice and as an opportunity to include music in her work. Along with a selection of videos such as Italian Dreams (2006), Afro Chic (2009), and Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment (2008) placed near related photographic series, Weems’s first major endeavor in film, Coming Up for Air (2003–4), a work comprised of series of poetic vignettes, will be screened in the New Media Theater in the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center for Arts Education.

Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art
Phillips Museum of Art
Franklin and Marshall College, Colonel J. Hall Steinman College Center, College Avenue, Lancaster, PA
February 7–April 12, 2014

This exhibition features work from the American artist Theresa Bernstein (1890–2002), one of the few—if not the only—artist to display work in every decade of the twentieth century. Although Bernstein found great success early in her career as an art student, she struggled with fluctuations in popularity as various art movements came and went, resulting in her work falling into obscurity for most historians and art critics. Despite this neglect, Bernstein has recently begun to receive recognition, and her work is being touted as noteworthy, even in comparison to her contemporaries such as Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, and John Sloan. Through her realist technique, Bernstein captured many iconic American themes from the twentieth century, such as women’s suffrage, World War I, the struggles of immigrants, jazz, and even Hassidic life. Therefore her work is not only skilled and aesthetic, but it also offers another perspective on American history. Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art was curated by Gail Levin, Distinguished Professor of Art History, American Studies, and Women’s Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019
December 21, 2013–April 21, 2014

Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New is an homage to one of the most foresighted art dealers of the late twentieth century. Organized by Ann Temkin with the assistance of Claire Lehmann, the exhibition is accompanied by an extensive publication with the same title and celebrates the donation of Robert Rauschenberg’s combine Canyon (1959) to the Museum of Modern Art by Ileana Sonnabend’s Estate. Bringing together works of over forty major artists—from Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol to Mario Merz and Vito Acconci—who either debuted at her gallery in Paris (1959–1968) or New York (1968– ) or entered into her personal collection early, the exhibition captures Sonnabend’s instrumental role in introducing American Pop and Minimalism to Europe and Arte Povera to the United States, while exploring her legendary eye and championship of new artists.

Despite frustrating limitations, including the politics of the exhibition, the donation of Canyon, and an unsurprising selection of masterpieces that self-congratulatorily reinforces mainstream narratives of American and European art of the late twentieth century housed in modern art temples such as MoMA (as justly implied by Holland Cotter in his New York Times review), Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New is a great reminder that the often-catalytic contribution of several female agents’ of postwar art in shaping its course in North America and Europe remains unexplored, if not unsung. Instead of just marveling at iconic landmarks of postwar, especially American, art as known, this exhibition should trigger further interest in Sonnabend’s story and raise questions that will pressure the histories of postwar art as we know them by illuminating the impact of the stories Sonnabend fashioned from the art of her time with her choices or the difference of her staging of her finds in Europe and in the United States.

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