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.

April 2014

Claudia DeMonte: La Forza del Destino
June Kelly Gallery
166 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012
April 10–May 13, 2014

Claudia DeMonte: La Forza del Destino presents a new series of paintings and sculptures focused on symbols of good and bad luck from around the world. For decades, Claudia DeMonte has been involved in collaborative research and art production with women artists across the globe. As curator, DeMonte is the artifice of WOMEN OF THE WORLD: A Global Collection of Art. This traveling exhibition, with accompanying comprehensive publication, includes the works and statements of women artists from 177 countries portraying their image of what means being a woman in their cultural environment. In her later project, Real Beauty, DeMonte commissioned handmade fabric dolls from artists and crafters to express local concepts of female beauty, standards that are being lost due to plastic reproductions and globalization.

From Bhutan, Laos, and Saudi Arabia to Senegal and Tibet, DeMonte has traveled the globe observing cultures, customs, and idiosyncrasies from women perspectives and often working collaboratively with local women workshops. In one of the works presented in La Forza del Destino, DeMonte uses a female form sculpted from wood and laden with pictographic configurations suggesting lucky charms of protection. Her new works make evident, once again, her continued interest in women’s multifaceted roles and impact as storytellers, historians, and mythological controllers of destiny. In DeMonte’s own words, La Forza del Destino examines from a women’s perspective the icons that represent luck, superstition, and protection from the evils of the world.

Ane Mette Hol: In the Collection
Trondheim Kunstmuseum
Bispegata 7 B, 7013 Trondheim, Norway
February 8–May 18, 2014

Trondheim Kunstmuseum presents In the Collection, a solo exhibition by the Oslo-based artist Ane Mette Hol (b. Bodø, 1979), who uses drawing as a research method that investigates the relationships between originals and reproductions. The “accurate copies” of objects and phenomena are the result of a painstaking work, questioning the very medium of drawing. By using paper and drawing tools, Hol copies things with precision down to the finest detail. She has made copies of brown paper, rolls of drawing paper, music sheets, drawing pads, and book covers, as well as printouts from the internet and botched photocopies. Through her completed works, she challenges the relationship between original and copy with an almost Borgesian approach. Furthermore, through this relationship, Hol’s works comment on our continuous recycling of what already exists and on our common knowledge about art history and theory. In this, she questions the nature of art; its premises in terms of content, politics, and institution through remarkable technical skill and through innovative frames of reference and conceptual discourse.

In the exhibition at Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Hol has based her work on a drawing of a photocopy from Charles Wood’s book How to Draw Portraits (1943). The drawing shows the book’s list of contents, and the exhibition is based on the different sections of the book. As the exhibition title suggested, the show features works from the museum’s collections and from Hol’s drawings, animations, and sound installations.

Maria Lassnig
22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101
March 9–May 25, 2014

Maria Lassnig (Austrian, b. 1919) is one of the most important contemporary women painters. Through what she called “body awareness,” her paintings mean an exploration of the inner world. She focused on representing the way her body feels to her from the inside, rather than attempting to depict it from outside. Lassnig’s remarkable career has spanned more than seventy years. Throughout the decades she has continued to create work that vulnerably explores the way she comes into contact with the world, emphasizing often the disjunctions between her own self-image, challenging the way she may be seen by others as a woman, as a painter, and as a person who has lived through the dramatic technological and cultural shifts that have marked the century of her lifetime. In her paintings, Lassnig exposes personal traumas, fantasies, and nightmares, offering instruction for courageous living in a time of social interaction.

From all creative periods of her career, spanning her early involvement with graphic abstraction in Paris and Art Informel, to her later shift to figural representation, Lassnig’s exhibition at PS1 is the most significant survey of the artists’ work ever presented in the United States. The show, focusing in her self-portraits, features approximately fifty paintings drawn from public and private holdings and from the artist’s own collection. A selection of watercolors and filmic works, many of which have never been previously seen in the United States, also make an appearance in the exhibition.

Mimi Smith: Constructing Art about Life
Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery
New Jersey City University Galleries, Hepburn Hall, 2039 Kennedy Boulevard, Room 323, Jersey City, NJ 07305
March 20–April 24, 2014

Mimi Smith: Constructing Art about Life is a concise survey of Mimi Smith’s work over the past five decades, curated by Midori Yoshimoto. A New York–based artist and a graduate of Rutgers University, Smith is best known for the clothing sculptures she begun in the mid-1960s, the most prominent being Steel Wool Peignoir (1966), a see-through dressing gown embellished with lace and steel wool that has become an icon of early feminist art. Combining banal consumer or domestic objects—such as the wrapping plastics of various consumer goods in Recycle Coat (1965), the bath mats in Girdle (1966), or the pieced-together plastics in Maternity Dress (1966)—Smith radically intervened in Pop art, producing feminist sartorial sculptures that addressed the role of fashion in women’s individual and social identities, while unmasking the complicated relationship of the public and the private in women’s lives.

In the early 1970s Smith challenged the Conceptual art of her time from the homebound perspective of a female artist and a mother, then raising her children in Ohio, with a series of works that merit further evaluation for their contribution to postwar art and their diverse politics. These include series of large-scale drawings done with measuring tape and knotted thread that replicates the rooms and furniture of her home, as well as multimedia installations that allude to the pervasiveness of new technologies and the increasing invasiveness of the news media, and also to the environment and nuclear threats.

Sculptural cloth making and clothing itself continue to play a great role in Smith’s contemporary investigation of gendered identity and politics, as seen in her recent ruminations on women’s aging through drawn representations of underwear.

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds
Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross Street, Houston, TX 77006
January 31–May 11, 2014

Curated by Michelle White under the auspices of the Menil Drawing Institute, Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is the first museum survey to focus on Lee Bontecou’s works on paper. It brings together over seventy works from various collections, including that of the Menil, that sample her drawing practice from 1958 to 2012. The show is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by White, Dore Ashton, and Joan Banach.

Advancing the understanding of the work of this incredible artist, Drawn Worlds explores Bontecou’s experimentation in materials and techniques, such as her early use of a welding torch to deposit velvet layers of black soot on paper, muslin, and canvas. The exhibition also contextualizes the artist’s distinctive iconography, especially her penchant for circles and voids, within the political and environmental concerns of the time of their making. Above all it provides a unique opportunity to witness the “unsettling realms of human folly and the frailty of the natural world” in which Bontecou’s “drawn words” take the viewer, while studying the forms that characterize them, whether as origins of her sculptures or independent transmutations of her haunting vocabulary.

Betye Saar: Redtime Est
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
100 Eleventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001
March 15–May 3, 2014

Betye Saar is widely known for multimedia collages, box assemblages, altars, and installations consisting of found materials that, as put by the artist, “reach across the barriers of art and life to bridge cultural diversity and forge new understandings,” in effect voicing various political, racial, spiritual and gender concerns. Redtime Est (2011), a variation of the eponymous installation for Pacific Standard Time in Los Angeles three years ago, offers a unique opportunity to indulge the affective sensibility of her highly political objects.

Redtime Est consists of red, or chameleonlike red, works that are curated by the artist in and around a room whose walls are painted red, “the color of anger, danger, violence, heat, passion, blood and fire.” A caged mannequin with a crow as head and dressed with shackles guards the entrance to Redtime Est, setting its tone, while Red Ascension, a painted red ladder, hangs diagonally across the wall that faces the viewer upon his or her entrance, cinematically commemorates the slaves’ trip from Africa to America with various symbolic objects featured in each frame, ranging from an African mask to handcrafted ships to red-painted chains and padlocks.

Unlike the miniretrospective character of the Redtime Est, this one is a mega-assemblage of recent works, the earliest dating from the early 1990s, whose subject matter, as in Justice (2011) features Aunt Jemima, is manifested with signature tropes of the feminist and antiracist underpinnings of the artist’s assemblage practice since the 1960s. Focusing on the most political aspects of her work, the artist brings together objects for Redtime Est that, while sampling the various modes of her practice from painting to assemblage and the sheer repurposing of found objects, illustrate the way in which she used “derogatory” stereotypes of blackness and recycled objects of poignant history and function, such as washboards, to make powerful and empowering critical statements about race and gender with an idiosyncratic marriage of past and present, her homage to her ancestors and her radical legacy to future.

Alexandra Bachzetzis and Claire Hooper
Bonner Kunstverein
Hochstadenring 22,
D-53119 Bonn, Germany
February 22–May 25, 2014

Bonner Kunstverein juxtaposes the deconstructive and seductive ways in which pop culture is respectively employed in the work of the performer and choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis and the filmmaker Claire Hooper, putting in dialogue the exploration of the distinct significance given by social media in the staging of personality and life today as well as the ways in which their practice challenges the exhibition format. While Bachzetsis performed with Anne Pajunen for A Piece Danced Alone (2011) during the opening, her work is mostly represented through video documentations of her choreographies. Hooper’s videos are exhibited as part of structures that function as projection surfaces and architectural ornamentation, creating links between the exhibition space, the illusionistic space of the film, and its documentary function in a manner typical of Hooper, as, for instance, by recreating a Berlin subway environment.

Bachzetsis’s works depict the controlled movements of bodies following a clear sequence in evocative situations that condense reflections of the contemporary media culture into studies of motion by means of mirroring and repetition. By isolating gestures and body language from the flow of the familiar as signs of cultural codes she deconstructs the sequence of events, while also variously analyzing the mechanics of TV soaps and hip hop video clips, classical ballet, modern dance, and performance art.

Hooper’s films, in which the British tradition of documentaries encounters Greek mythology, focus on figures in precarious social circumstances and their entanglement in restrictive systems that are converted into collective social areas through parablelike, mythological enhancement. Interchangeable elements from everyday life in documentary fashion oscillate kaleidoscopically with theatrically charged passages. While pop culture plays an equally important part in the staging of her figures, Hooper depicts the body in seemingly surreal dance performances that enable her to portray the irrational and also the compulsive forces that continue to drive our society. A dialogue about the body and its representation in the media, as well as its physical and social limitations, develops between their works. Both artists depict the body and the figure as shimmering, constantly changing projection surfaces.

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