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.

June 2014

Swoon: Submerged Motherlands
Brooklyn Museum
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, Fifth Floor, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238
April 11–August 24, 2014

Submerged Motherlands, a solo exhibition by the Brooklyn-based artist Swoon, is a collaborative inhabitable shelter that explores social and environmental issues. Born in Florida in 1977 as Caledonia Dance Curry, Swoon is best known for her large, intricate linocut prints that are wheat pasted onto industrial buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In this occasion Swoon leaves the streets to appropriate the Brooklyn Museum as a temporary home for transforming the rotunda gallery into a “submerged motherland,” an inhabitable installation that includes previous traveling boats and rafts, figurative prints, drawings, and painting, dyed fabrics, and cut-paper foliage that grew around a monumental sculptural tree.

Swoon’s practice is rooted in collaboration, community, experimentation, and discovery. From conceptualization through production, her practice means an immersive, provocative, and transformative experience for both participants and visitors. She has translated her projects to both galleries and museums, but also to socially rooted arts activism in places such as Konbit Shelter Project in Haiti and Transformazium in Braddock, Pennsylvania, among others.

A meditation on humanity, climate change, and the artist’s own mother passing away during the ideation stage for the installation, Submerged Motherlands reflects on the notion of home—and the loss of it. In the artists’ words, the creative process of this inhabitable installation follows an “impulse to build a safe space in the world for herself and her community; some place to be a little bit different from the norm.” Swoon’s fantastic installation transformed the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Rotunda Gallery in a temporary and yet memorable shelter for many.

Judith Shea
Kent Fine Art
210 Eleventh Avenue, Second Floor, New York, NY 10001
May 9–June 28, 2014

Judith Shea’s solo exhibition is a sculptural homage to the role of women in the arts. For decades, Shea studied the representation of the human figure through a constant observation of people and the exploration of materials. In absence or presence of the body, from her late 1970s clothes-based series to the present sculptures that honors the role of women in the arts, powerful human emotions are evident in Shea’s work.

Shea reflects on the origin of her sculptural approach to the human form to different and yet meaningful experiences of her educational upbringing. Being raised as a Catholic, she was a constant witness of the representation of religious statues in church. While being trained as a ballet dancer as a child, she grew connected with her own body.

Graduated with a fashion-design degree from Parsons in 1969, Shea continues pursuing her interests in visual art, earning her BFA at Parsons in 1975. Based on “her own style”—as titled the successful exhibition she curated on women self-portraits at National Academy Museum in 2012—“the artist who makes clothes” was invited to collaborate with Trisha Brown and the Eye and Ear Theater Company—working with artists such as Red Grooms and Elizabeth Murray.

At Kent Fine Arts, Shea presents seven new sculptures that pay tribute to the role of women in the arts. Through these sculptural portraits, Shea demonstrates her unique sense of observation and virtuosity with materials. A fully illustrated monograph documenting Shea’s work from 1976 to the present accompanies the exhibition.

Nalini Malani: Transgressions
Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021
February 19–August 3, 2014

Transgressions is a solo exhibition by Nalini Malani. Born in Karachi in 1946, Malani is considered one of the foremost artists from India today. Her work is influenced by her experiences as a refugee of the Partition of India in 1947. Trained as a painter at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai, Malani has created work gradually evolved toward new media and international collaboration, expanding the pictorial surface into the surrounding environment, such as ephemeral wall drawing, installation, shadow play, and theater. In the 1980s, she became a pioneer in India for her attention to feminist issues. In the early 1990s, her innovative theater, installations, and multimedia projects featured recurring themes on gender, memory, race, and transnational politics, especially in reference to India’s postcolonial history after independence and partition.

Her current exhibition at the Asia Society and Museum includes Trangressions II (2009), a video that draws from the museum’s collection, exploring the nuances of Western postcolonial dominance in India, integrating the folk sensibility of traditional shadow plays with new technology. Using projections through transparent Lexan cylinders, painted by the artist in a fashion that references the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Bengal Kalighat style and inspired by the genre of reverse glass painting, brought to the subcontinent in the eighteenth century by the Chinese, Malani examines the power dynamics of transnational commerce in our increasingly globalized world. Through a mesmerizing projection of colors and imagery inspired by Edward Said’s book Orientalism, an ever-shifting tableau including wrathful female deity, boxers, and animals is accompanied by a recording of a poem written by the artist. The exhibition includes a selection of artist’s books that highlight the relevance of drawing and painting in Malani’s practice.

Zilia Sánchez: Heróicas Eróticas en Nueva York
Galerie Lelong
528 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001
May 3–June 21, 2014

Heróicas Eróticas en Nueva York, Zilia Sánchez’s first solo exhibition at Galerie Lelong, offers a delightful opportunity to experience masterpieces of sensuous and haptic minimalism, while timely questioning the canonic premises of Minimalism as being reconstituted at the Jewish Museum. Spanning fifty years of her production, including recent works such as the monumental diptych Conversation (from the Eros and Communication series), the exhibition brings together “paintings” rarely seen outside Puerto Rico, made in the artist’s signature technique of stretching canvas over hand-molded wooden armatures—often in modular configurations or reworked as parts of ongoing series—that was developed during the period she lived in New York (1964–72). Heroically erotic, Sánchez’s curvy and soft minimalist hybrid objects “queer” hard-edge minimalism differently evoking the body in a manner that does not adhere to fixed categories of gender.

Born in Cuba in 1926, Sánchez studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro and became associated with the group Sociedad Cultural Nuestro Tiempo. Under the influence of Victor Manuel, she developed her own modernist approach to formal abstraction through paintings and drawings, while also designing furniture and theater sets (especially for the anti-Batista guerilla theater group Los Yesistas). Several grants allowed her to travel in Europe, and in 1964 she settled in New York, where she first begun experimenting with shaped canvases. In 1972, Sánchez moved to Puerto Rico, where she became inspirational through her teaching at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico. From 1972 to 1975 she designed the influential experimental literary journal Zona de Carga y Descarga, while in the 1980s she renewed her signature style by including line drawing or drawing transfer of semaphores and sign language on her canvases.

Sharon Lockhart: Milena, Milena

Bonniers Konsthall
Torsgatan 19
SE-11390, Stockholm, Sweden
April 16–June 29, 2014

Bonniers Konsthall hosts the second iteration of the exhibition trilogy Sharon Lockhart: Milena Milena that begun in Warsaw in 2013 at the Center for Contemporary Art and will be concluded in Switzerland in 2015 at the Kunstmuseum Luzern. This exhibition is the first large-scale survey of the work of the renowned American photographer and filmmaker in Scandinavia, where Lockhart has been particularly influential. Drawing inspiration from filmmaking and documentary photography, as well as from ethnography and anthropology, she has distinguished herself since the 1990s for her fascinating portrayals of individuals and communities, and a minimalist attention to the everyday, the subjective, and the human.

As a cross-sectional presentation of both her photographic and filmic work in the past twenty years, the exhibition explores the middle ground between the filmic and the photographic that is inhabited by her meticulously staged photographs and almost still films, emphasizing the relationship they both maintain to time and space, while also claiming the biographical dimension of her work. As such, the exhibition opens with the cinematic Double Tide (2009)—filmed in Maine, where Lockhart spent her childhood—and concludes with the rarely exhibited series Untitled Studies (1993–ongoing), Lockhart’s photographic diary, composed of rephotographed snapshots found in her own family album.

At the center of the exhibition’s narrative is Milena, an enigmatic figure who remains disquietly absent, distilling different threads of identification in her very nonpresence. Lockhart first met Milena when nine years old in 2009 in Łódź, Poland, while filming Podwórka, also a centerpiece of the exhibition. Literally translated as “courtyard” from Polish, Podwórka displays six different courtyards in Łódź and the children that live and play there. Lockhart and Milena developed a friendship through the act of play. Upon the rekindling of their friendship when staging the show for Warsaw, Lockhart discovered Milena’s desire to write an autobiography about her life, which provided the impetus through which the two have explored artistic expression together. The exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall features a specially commissioned, monumental stained-glass portrait of the Polish master glass painter Piotr Ostrowski as a personal and culturally specific tribute.

Kalliopi Lemos: I Am I Between Worlds and Between Shadows
Ioakimion School for Girls
Fener, Istanbul
September 11, 2013–December 14, 2014

Curated by Beral Madra as a parallel event of the thirteenth Istanbul Biennale but now extended to December 2014, I Am I Between Worlds and Between Shadows is a major site-specific installation of new work by the London-based Greek artist Kalliopi Lemos. A painter, sculptor, and installation artist, Lemos has become internationally known for a series of public installations that make poignant commentaries about the hopes and tragedies that underpin illegal migration by using the abandoned relics of successful or failed illegal migration typical of the Aegean coasts—small wooden boats (such as Crossing, Eleusis, Greece [2006/9]; Round Voyage, Istanbul [2007]; At Crossroads, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin [2009]; and Pledges for a Safe Passage, Canakkale, Turkey [2012]). Complementing Lemos’s concern with the dispossessed from a transnational feminist perspective that links the injustices against the racial, classed, and religious underdogs of global capital—best represented by the illegal migrant—with those against the gendered others of patriarchal societies—women—I Am I Between Worlds and Between Shadows tackles the issue of violence against women in a poetic, multidisciplinary, and site-specific way.

I Am I Between Worlds and Between Shadows consists of a series of seven sculptures depicting variously violated hybrid creatures, a sound installation, and a constantly renewed archive of women’s abuse, comprised of world news print outs, all evocatively installed in the abandoned yet intact rooms of the Ioakimion Greek High School for Girls. A gem of the once booming Greek Orthodox minority in Fener, the latter was founded in nineteenth century but closed in the 1980s when its attendance dropped to six students. The sound collage of joyful schoolchildren playing and singing affectively evokes the lively atmosphere of the past of the school as a breeding ground of dreams for the girls who attended it. Yet the injustices awaiting women, even in Western societies, are hinted by the evocations of gendered violation and sacrifice embedded in the Greek folk songs and international fairy tales narrated by children (also part of the sound installation), echoing the monstrosity of contemporary actuality that marks the news’ readings of the absent schoolgirls with transcultural staples of patriarchal myth. Hung from a butcher’s hook, on crutches or on gigantic prosthetic devices or confined by rails—and more often than not mutilated, amputated, and violently dismembered—these sculptural bodies most poignantly hint at various kinds of bodily, psychic, and gendered abuse, both through their imaginative bodily articulations and their manner of installation. Masterfully cast in stonelike steel with embedded resin, these half-animal, half-human creatures evoke familiar mythological and Surrealist creatures that suggestively cut across a wide spectrum of cultural and artistic references. Melancholically posed in the place of the teacher, the beheaded mermaid, the multibreasted hung rabbit, and the decapitated hen with the splayed vulva hovering on crutches, for instance, become protagonists of a tale from a children’s book that keeps going wrong in the world of the adults, raising awareness of all kinds of abuse that, whether explicitly or implicitly, threatens not only the egalitarian realization of women in various societies, but also their unencumbered expression of difference, and above all their human dignity. A two-faced chicken, clumsily balancing on two bases—itself a metaphor of unstable youth, according to the artist—looms also as an evocative stand-in for liminal creatures of exile. With its gaze fixed here and there, it aids the artist by bringing in full circle her concerns by perhaps planting a metaphor for the modern transnational, subject—forced migrant or cosmopolitan—and its vulnerability in the heart of a charged site of convoluted transcultural and imperial histories—an abandoned stronghold of Greek and Christian culture in Istanbul in the era of globalization and yet renewed and bloody nationalisms and religious fundamentalisms that, like all kinds of violence, make children and women their primary victims.

Kara Walker: A Subtlety
Domino Sugar Factory
316 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11249
May 10–July 6, 2014

Commissioned by Creative Time as a public-art farewell to a loaded site—the Domino Sugar Factory—where American industrial capitalism, consumerism, and racism have variously intersected and will be perhaps redefined through its upcoming neoliberal gentrification, Kara Walker’s A Subtlety is a both moving and canning, sugar-coated, monumental memorial to chief confectioners of the American Dream, black slaves and laborers, as well as the artist’s first large scale sculptural public work. The subtitle of the work tellingly summarizes its poignant agenda: Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plan.

A Subtlety comprises a gigantic sphinx whose hybrid body combines cliché apparitions of the black woman as domestic slave and sex object and a series of black boys cast in molasses. The latter are cast after contemporary giftware made in China but reference the original “subtleties”: sugar-made, edible sculptures and dinner emblems of power and wealth that decorated the tables of Middle Eastern sultans and European nobility.

“In Greek mythology the sphinx is a guardian of the city, a devourer of heroes and the possessor of a riddle that maybe can’t be answered,” says the artist, explaining its conception: “the factory is a modern-day ruin, and I think the sphinx contains the various readings of history that the place represents.” Exchanging her signature black for the site-specific whiteness of sugar, a material central to the slave trade and in effect of the American way, Walker has thus unsubtly “refined” the black body of her mighty benign monster, mixing references to the labor of sugar production and trade and white’s classical and sanctifying purity, in effect both honoring black bodies’ unsung contribution to Western pleasures while foregrounding the lasting whiteness of power in America. Moreover half a century after Niki de Saint Phalle’s Hon in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the temporary gigantic Nana that exorcised the riddles surrounding the female body, Sugar Baby toys with them yet also from the radical, even though controversial, perspective of a woman of color: “she’s a woman, a bootylicious figure with something paradoxical about her pose. She’s both a supplicant and an emblem of power. From the front, she seems to hold her ground. But what you see from behind is what happens when a nude woman bends over, raising a question of whether it’s a gesture of sexual passivity or not.”

As put by the project’s curator, Nato Thompson, A Subtlety speaks “of power, race, bodies, women, sexuality, slavery, sugar refining, sugar consumption, wealth inequity, and industrial might that uses the human body to get what it needs no matter the cost to life and limb. Looming over a plant whose entire history was one of sweetening tastes and aggregating wealth, of refining sweetness from dark to white, she stands mute, a riddle so wrapped up in the history of power and its sensual appeal that one can only stare stupefied, unable to answer.”

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