Fall Variations: Shows by women artists

Art critic Deborah Solomon announced on WNYC recently that canonical white male artists were prominent on the scene this fall in New York’s major museums – Chris Burden at the New Museum, Robert Motherwell and Christopher Wool at the Guggenheim, Robert Indiana at the Whitney, Magritte at MoMA, and Mike Kelley at P.S. 1/MoMA – but these exhibitions don’t occlude the presence of some outstanding women artists in installations scattered throughout the city. Here’s a short list:

• Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet, The Cloisters, thru December 8, 2013

Unlike MoMA, whose exhibition “Soundings” packs the work of sixteen experimental sound artists in a space too tight to distinguish one from another, the Metropolitan Museum considers the significance of location in the reception of an art form we, as viewers, are often ill-adept at understanding. For the Fuentidueña Chapel of the Cloisters, artist Janet Cardiff  (b. 1957 Canada) diverges from her densely-layered sound constructions in favor of the subtle individuation of voices within a polyphonic whole. By isolating the voice of each singer – whether soprano, alto, tenor, base, or baritone – of the forty-part motet, Spem in alium numquam habui by 16th-century Tudor composer Thomas Tallis, Cardiff offers an experience of being there with the singers. The audience can move among the forty high-fidelity speakers mounted on tripods the height of an average adult and arranged in an oval the length of the chapel.  Nestled within the sacred choral music, one feels both physically and emotionally the finesse of nuance over the bravura of achievement. Here too, Cardiff offers the quiet whispers of the choral group as they rehearse, balancing our discovery somewhere between the sacred and the mundane.

Installation view of the exhibition Carol Bove: The Equinox. July 20, 2013–January 12, 2014. All artworks either courtesy of the artist, Maccarone New York and David Zwirner New York/London or in the collection of MoMA and © 2013 Carol Bove. Photo by John Wronn © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Installation view of the exhibition Carol Bove: The Equinox. July 20, 2013–January 12, 2014. All artworks either courtesy of the artist, Maccarone New York and David Zwirner New York/London or in the collection of MoMA and © 2013 Carol Bove. Photo by John Wronn © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

• Carol Bove, The Equinox, MoMA, thru January 12, 2014

Carol Bove (b. 1971 Switzerland) has always struck me as purposefully obtuse as well as playfully enigmatic: she has assembled late 60s/early 70s intellectual karma in the form of books posed on shelves and interspersed high modernist sculptural forms with natural elements such as shells, rocks, or feathers. But rather than visual incongruence, Bove insists on an aesthetic affinity between natural and technologically derived objects. She has always been a scavenger and in this installation of seven distinct sculptures entitled The Equinox, the juxtaposition of shapes and textures, gleaned from seemingly contradictory sources, elides boundaries to invite an alternative perspective. There is some affinity to Brancusi’s sculptural arrangements: neither purely formalist nor completely conceptual, her installations are nonetheless decidedly confident.

• Nancy Friedemann, On the Margins of a Portrait, 1@GAP, now closed

Nancy Friedemann, from her exhibition "On the Margins of a Portrait," 2013. Detail, enamel on dibond. Photo © 2013 Kathleen MacQueen.

Nancy Friedemann, from her exhibition “On the Margins of a Portrait,” 2013. Detail, enamel on dibond.
Photo © 2013 Kathleen MacQueen.

Since the crises in the Balkans, Rwanda, September 11th, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the feminist notion of “the personal is political” has been stripped of its social context and applied almost exclusively to trauma. And so how to speak of personal experience that is not on the edge of bare life (Agamben) and still remain relevant? Colombian artist Nancy Friedemann considers the cultural impact of women on history. In her paintings, she reaches back to an earlier tradition of lacemaking, embroidery, and even domestic painting on china. Acceptable past-times for the upper classes, these skills provided employment for poor women doing piecework for wages. (We could also speak of the classification and documentation of flora and fauna in the natural sciences.) Friedemann’s paintings transpose the delicacy of lace with surprising intensity as minutely detailed and colorful insects and lizards make their home within a gentle tracery of white foliage on a black ground. In these large scale works, domesticity runs head-on into a wider worldview of the natural environment and its role in our imagination. Through the artist’s meticulous treatment of her subject, the work transcends its material context, aspiring to a philosophical ideal rather than a spiritual condition. To paraphrase Clarice Lispector: she paints objects as she would do needlework. A lacemaking woman.

• A.K. Burns, Ending with a Fugue, Callicoon Fine Arts, LES, thru October 27

A.K. Burns, Ending with a Fugue, 2013, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, NY.

A.K. Burns, Ending with a Fugue, 2013, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, NY.

A.K. Burns has a similar versatility toward mediums as Carol Bove but less in terms of relations and more in the sense of “by any means necessary” (this was honestly my assessment before I knew of her 2012 work of this title). Burns works in sculpture, video, collage, and social performance and, while her five-channel video was one of the outstanding selections for the recent ICP Photography Triennial “A Different Kind of Order,” her exhibition at Callicoon gives a greater sense of her breadth of practice and vision. She asserts “the personal is not only political, but sexual” and her new video work documents the New York Botanical Garden’s annual orchid show through the photographic view of spectators – the clichés of beauty and fertility distended in the bi-sexual shapes of the orchid. She also contends both through activism and art with the relationship of the artist to the wage economy. Here castoff work shirts and sweaters are immortalized in cast aluminum while two megaliths (also foundry productions) become ironic memorial stele to the sedimentary fusion of sand, shoe, and spice – a sensory reminder of the economy of catastrophe and the pressures of existence, both in physical and metaphysical sensibility.

Merike Estna, "spinach banana," installation view, Winkleman Gallery, NY. Photography by Etienne Frossard.

Merike Estna, “spinach banana,” installation view, Winkleman Gallery, NY. Photography by Etienne Frossard.

• Merike Estna, spinach and banana, Winkleman Gallery, Chelsea, thru October 12, 2013

Who would name an exhibition, spinach and banana? The same playful insouciance invoked by the title reappears again and again throughout this exhibition by Estonian artist, Merike Estna (b. 1980) and no wonder the official “opening” is near the end of its run, for negotiating this space is like wending your way through a bakery after an earthquake: paintings, all in icing-colored pastels, blow in the wind, lean against pedestals, lie on the ground, or peek out of holes like a mouse on the prowl. In a Fantasia-esque imagination, the paintings might have created themselves, an impression seconded by a video peering through the havoc in which 3D paintings are both in and of the landscape, enacting a romping pastoral interlude. Noted by Flash Art in 2006 as one of the best 100 international artists, Estna upholds the praise seven years later with gleeful abandon.

• Dorothea Rockburne, Drawing Which Makes Itself, MoMA, thru January 20, 2014

“Drawing is the bones of thought,” says Dorothea Rockburne (b. 1932 Canada) and, perhaps, it is the flesh and blood as well. MoMA’s reprise of the artist’s project: Drawing Which Makes Itself, of 1972–73 reveals not only the line of Rockburne’s mathematical and structural precision but also the material sensibility of her process. In her use of charcoal paper, black smudge marks follow each movement where paper has rested and then like a dancer folds, curves, and slides to the next point. Paper is both ground and means as the artist choreographs space – fold, line, line, shift, repeat – embracing both floor and walls in her minimal yet expansive gesture. And no wonder the performance! Rockburne studied at Black Mountain College in the early 1950s with mathematician Max Dehn but also with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Franz Kline. She performed in several of Alfred Leslie’s films and in Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy from 1964. She sought out the resources she could afford, buying crude oil instead of paint, where it oozes seemingly from underground up through the paper and chip board surface of Scalar from 1971, included in this all too concise exhibition…prelude to a retrospective?

Dorothea Rockburne (American, born Canada 1932). Conservation Class #9. 1973. Graphite on paper mounted on gessoed masonite. 34 1/2 × 70″ (87.6 × 177.8 cm). Collection the artist. © 2013 Dorothea Rockburne / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dorothea Rockburne, Conservation Class #9, 1973, graphite on paper mounted on gessoed masonite, 34 1/2 × 70″ (87.6 × 177.8 cm). Collection the artist. © 2013 Dorothea Rockburne / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Anne Truitt, Grant, 1974, acrylic on wood, 7 1/2 x 144 x 9 1/2 inches, 19 x 366 x 24 cm. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, NY.

Anne Truitt, Grant, 1974, acrylic on wood, 7 1/2 x 144 x 9 1/2 inches, 19 x 366 x 24 cm. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, NY.

• Anne Truitt, Threshold: Work from the 1970s, Matthew Marks Gallery, Chelsea, thru October 26, 2013

Dorothea Rockburne was not included in the seminal 1966 exhibition “Primary Structures” but Anne Truitt (1920-2004) was – one of three women in a field of 39 men. I cannot write better of Anne Truitt’s work than she herself describes the contingent relation of human transience to the permanence of things:

I sat for a long while in one of the rectangular courtyards, listening to the fountain. Feeling the artists all around me, I slowly took an unassuming place (for two of my own sculptures were somewhere in the museum) among the people whose lives, as all lives do, had been distilled into objects that outlasted them. Quilts, pin cushions, chairs, tables, houses, sculptures, paintings, tilled and retilled fields, gardens, poems—all of validity and integrity. Like earthworms, whose lives are spent making more earth, we human beings also spend ourselves into the physical. A few of us leave behind objects judged, at least temporarily, worthy of preservation by the culture into which we were born. The process is, however, the same for us all. Ordered into the physical, in time we leave the physical, and leave behind us what we have made in the physical.             [from Daybooks: The Journal of an Artist (1982)]

Certainly the strength of these works and others from the 1970s, when women artists had only a fraction of the exhibition opportunities as men, warrant a more substantial curatorial undertaking to disclose both their innovative practices and also their influence on successive generations. Certainly, too, these artists could hold their own in some of the more expansive museum spaces in New York.

And there’s more:

• Gretchen Bender, Tracking the Thrill, The Kitchen, Chelsea, thru October 5, 2013

• Charline von Heyl, Petzel, Chelsea, thru October 5, 2013

• Hayv Kahraman, Let the Guest Be the Master, Jack Shainman Gallery, Chelsea, thru October 12, 2013

• Carol Bove, RA, Or why is an orange like a bell?, Maccarone, West Village, thru October 19, 2013

• Elaine Reichek, A Postcolonial Kinderhood Revisited, the Jewish Museum, thru October 20, 2013

• Penelope Umbrico, Slide Show, LMAK Projects, LES, thru October 20, 2013

• Nalini Malani, In Search of Vanished Blood, Galerie Lelong, Chelsea, thru October 26, 2013

• Sharon Louden, Morgan Lehman, Chelsea, October 24 – December 7, 2013

• Isa Genzken, MoMA, November 23, 2013 – March 10, 2014

• Ursula von Rydingsvard, Barclay Center, permanent installation entitled “Ona” (20 foot high cedar sculpture cast in bronze to result in 19.5 foot high sculpture, “ona” meaning “she” or “her” in Polish)

2 comments

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for bringing all these exhibitions together and making these artists more accessible and noted. The Anne Truitt quote is so poignantly lovely.

  2. Nancy, thanks for your feedback and your link!