Archive for the 'Women in art' Category

Found in the International Honor Quilt boxes — Ana Lupas (by Kathleen Loomis)

I wrote last week about my new volunteer gig, helping to catalog the “International Honor Quilt” collection of panels  that were made to accompany Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party installation.  My favorite piece in the first 200 panels I’ve catalogued is this one, by Ana Lupas:

Yes, at first glance it looks pretty awful, a mess of raggedy interfacing and loose thread ends.  But as you look more closely, you notice the intricate machine-stitched gridwork in the center:

Why did this piece call out to me so loudly?  I love grids, and I love dense machine stitching, and I love old-fashioned typewriters like the one used to type Lupas’ name and address on the interfacing.  But what I really admire is the supreme confidence of an artist who can put such humble materials together — the edges are secured with staples! — and make them stand up straight and proud.

The panel stood out from the others — not pretty, not earnest, not awkward or amateurish, despite its seemingly haphazard construction.  It’s the only one I’ve seen so far that strikes me as art rather than as decoration.

I had never heard of Ana Lupas, but some research reveals her to be 75 years old, still living in Cluj, Romania, where she was born.  She started her art career as a tapestry weaver and was exhibited in all the major shows, including several times at the the Lodz Triennial, where she won Gold and Silver medals in 1979.

She expanded her work to installations and happenings, especially outdoors where she was among the earliest Land Art practitioners and strongly influenced many of her fellow artists in Eastern Europe.  She would enlist people from villages to construct wreaths, towers and other forms from straw, then leave them outside for years to weather and disintegrate.  Predating Christo’s Running Fence, she had 100 women help her cover an entire hill with clotheslines of wet linens.

Ana Lupas, Humid Installation, 1970

I was unable to find more information about Lupas and her recent work, even by painfully reading Google translations of art criticism from the Hungarian. I found an artist statement that somebody else had translated into English, but it left most of its meaning behind.  She talks about art having “to contribute, to shape, and to give new dimensions to the social existential universe,” whatever that means.  She has no website, and I could find no images of her early tapestry work, predating the internet.

I’m afraid she will remain a mystery to me; her work calls out to me across the years but leaves me hungry for more.

I’m also posting this to my personal blog, artwithaneedle.blogspot.com

The art of fiber / the fiber of art (by Olga Norris)

Sheila Hicks
Shiela Hicks with her work Pillar of Enquiry/Supple Column (from this review)

With some regret I will not be able to visit the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present, on at the ICA, Boston now until January 4, then at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus from January – April 5 2015, followed by the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa May 8 – August 2nd. However, I have the next best thing: the excellent catalogue with its informative and thought-provoking essays.

I became generally interested in soft sculpture such as the work of Meret Oppenheim and Claes Oldenburg before developing a particular fascination with fibre art in the late 70s through the Royal College of Art Gaudy Ladies exhibitions which included weaver Marta Rogoyska, and Natalie Gibson (whose print designs can be seen here). Then I also became attracted to the work of Tadek Beutlich who worked with weaving off the loom.
Tadek BeutlichThis opened a window for me, and I started looking more and more for examples of sculptural textiles – which led me to a treasury of delights: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olga de Amaral, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Anne Wilson among so many others. Interesting that I arrived at Eva Hesse and Rosemarie Trockel directly through my interest in sculpture rather than through fibre art.

The catalogue provides clear photographs of the work in situ as well as close-ups, and the essays are also illuminating. The gulf between the burgeoning fibre art movement and what might be called mainstream art critics’ view of art is pointed out in the first essay of the catalogue: The Materialists by Jenelle Porter.
Despite the gains of the feminist art movement, which included a groundbreaking loosening of confining categories and mediums that has continued to have an impact on artists to this day, fiber’s association with women’s work undermined the abstract, material experimentation of fiber artists – man of whom were women, though not necessarily self-identified feminists. … By using traditionally domestic crafts … On the positive side they acquired a ready made alternative art history, and gained a language of form that summoned up vast realms of women’s experience. On the negative side they found themselves confronted by the questionable notion that craft was inherently female, and by the negative aspects of that gendering.

picFiberICA140930Abakanowicz_0352w
Magdalena Abakanowicz: Yellow Abakan (from this review of the exhibition)

In Glenn Adamson’s essay Soft Power he draws the distinction in bold terms by comparing the gravity-enhanced fibre works with distinct periods in history of the unpopularity of the flaccid penis in sculpture. The distinct lack of critical acclaim for the droopy draped natural forms of soft sculpture compares with the critical successes of upright thrusting forms of hard sculpture. This superficial sounding view is in fact an informative well thought-out argument which has certainly presented a different perspective to the feminist debate.
T’ai Smith’s essay Tapestries in Space: An Alternative History of Site-Specificity discusses how many of the glorious fibre sculptures were commissioned for specific buildings and now many have been destroyed or about to be destroyed because they were not looked after or were no longer needed. Barbara Shawcroft’s Legs joyously decorating the spaces of the Embarcadero Station on the Bay Area Rapid Transport network has been neglected, and is now to be returned to the artist – which at least is better than destruction. (Article about Legs here)
Barbara-Shawcroft-and-fiber-sculpture-Cal-Design-76
Barbara Shawcroft: White Form

Robert Rohm’s Rope Piece has been dismantled and lost, but the exhibition curator Jenelle Porter and a team from the ICA reconstructed the work and it is now part of the show.

Art made of fibre does suffer over time. Maintenance and conservation are headaches for collectors and institutions. Some fibre art once bought is wrapped up and put straight into the cupboard. This has happened with Lenore Tawney and MOMA. the latter pleading lack of appropriate space. At least, that might have been so in past decades, but now with the ubiquity of installations, the maintenance nightmares of sharks in formaldehyde, the vast sizes of iconic museum architecture, perhaps this timely revival of these wondrous constructions will have some positive effect -?

photo-614x460Elise Giauque: Pure Spatial Element (from this review of the exhibition)

But in reading this excellent catalogue/book as well as having been given the opportunity to think again about those historic pieces, and to mull once more aspects of feminism in art, I also ask myself, is it really over-simplifying the case by so much to say that generally, work made in materials which need less maintenance and conservation are in the long run more highly regarded (i.e. worth more) by the art world (critics, curators, collectors)?

Artist twins who meld traditions (by Margaret Cooter)

The Singh Twins, Amrit and Rabindra, have pioneered a new development of the traditional Indian miniature in modern art. Their work addresses important areas of critical debate, challenging stereotypes of heritage and identity.

The twins, who grew in in the United Kingdom, use the language of Indian and Persian miniature painting to depict the contemporary world. Their 2010 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London,  had a room of family scenes and another of the complex world outside the home. It’s intriguing to see how social commentary and political satire fit into the modern into the classical framework, for instance this teenager’s bedroom, rendered in the Indian miniature tradition, with a strong narrative, symbolic content, and eye for detail –

I particularly liked this idol-worshipper, her traditional shape in modern garments –

Apart from wit and skill, the work requires tenacity – it takes four hours to finish a stamp-sized section of the paintings, and the works on show were up to a metre high. The twins’ work is identical to the untrained eye, and in real life they dress alike to the last detail. In this podcast they talk about the concept of being “women artists”.

“1984” shows the notorious storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar – read more about the painting, and see a larger version, here.

One aspect of the artists’ commentary is the blindfolded reporters … but they are very hard to find in the online version.

In another mix of traditions, they received MBEs in 2011, and posed with the Queen’s Beefeaters –

singh-twins

 

Speaking out of turn (by Olga Norris)

I, like Nature, abhor a vacuum, so, even tho’ ’tis not my turn, I am adding a small post here while we catch up with the schedule.
art-image-2-582849578
(Image from here)
It all started with a need to listen to something interesting while I was stitching. I turned to a radio programme broadcast last year – about artists’ studios. Great, because I have an insatiable curiosity about where and how artists work. Even better that the presenter/interviewer was an artist herself: a printmaker of whom I had not heard – Susan Aldworth. And there started a marvellous journey of discovery.
An artist fascinated by the idea of self, Aldworth has examined and used scientific and medical imaging and interventions to do with the brain, including her own brain scans. I was particularly mesmerised by the next programme I listened to: an interview with a friend who has epilepsy, and whose portrait she was making. I was intrigued and moved by the sounds of the epileptic brain!
I followed this immediately with a programme about the printmaker Stanley Jones of Curwen Press. The three programmes together gave me a great deal to think about, and it was not until the following week that I returned to see the film about Susan Aldworth’s latest project called Transience. It involves making prints using slices of brain donated by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease – donated with use in making art included in the purposes agreed by the donors. I found the film compelling viewing, and am still thinking about it all.

I would love to know what anyone thinks of the work and the thinking behind it as discussed in this film.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools

A visit to the degree show at the Royal Academy Schools got me thinking about the history of art education for women, and the Royal Academy and the position of women within it.

A working environment

A working environment

The Schools are tucked in behind the grandeur of the main RA building – the studio skylights look like a series of sheds that have been tacked on.

Schools corridor (via)

Inside, the corridor is dark, cluttered and a few centuries old. Most of the statues have bits missing (not always just the naughty bits). This place has seen heavy use since the RA moved to Burlington House in 1868.

The life drawing studio in 2010

The life drawing studio in 2010

The bare bones of the life drawing studio, and the collection of casts, look pretty much as it always has, and tucked in along the hallways are other necessities.

A library is housed in locked bookcases

A library is housed in locked bookcases

Other cases house skeletons

Other cases house skeletons

The Schools were founded in 1768 as part of an institution with a mission: “to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition.” The Royal Academy went on to dominate the art scene of the 18th and 19th centuries, but along the way it somehow lost its women members… first by attrition, and then, says the RA website, “In 1879, the Council of the day came to the conclusion that our original Instrument of Foundation did not allow for women RAs. Eventually, they relented and passed a resolution to make women eligible, but only on the condition of restricted privileges.”

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

For a long time the RA Schools  was the only established art school in Britain. (Why “Schools”? – because when the RA was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order – eg, drawing from casts before moving on to life drawing. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’.)

1808, drawing by gaslight

1808, drawing by gaslight (via)

Other art education was through private schools and tutelage, which is how any women in Britain who aspired to be an artist got training, unless she went abroad to study. In 1860 the RA started admitting women students – almost by mistake. Selection was by submitted drawings, and when L. Herford turned up, what was assumed to be a Lawrence turned out to be a Laura.

By 1862 there were seven women among an intake of about 25 students a year, and before long they outnumbered the male students – who had migrated to Paris, where the drawing instruction was superior (says Stuart Macdonald in The History and Philosophy of Art Education, 1969) . All students at the RA Schools “spent five or more years in tedious imitation” – and women were banned from life drawing until 1893.

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

By the beginning of the 20th century the RA Schools had further competition in the form of the Slade and the Royal College of Art, and the quality of its students declined. Attempts to widen the curriculum to include decorative art got nowhere – it was confined to life-sized painting from the head, and painting and drawing from the nude figure.

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

The course lasted up to 10 years before 1853; it runs for three years now, and there are about 60 students in the Schools at a time, doing this postgraduate course. In 1769, 70 students were admitted; then as now, they do not pay fees.

 

Angelika Kauffmann's paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Angelika Kauffmann’s paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Two women, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser, were among the 36 founding members of the RA, but for a long time (until Annie Swynnerton became an associate in 1922, and Laura Knight a full member in 1936) there were no women academicians. Up to 80 practising artists are elected to be academicians ; these currently include 26 women.

 

Academicians are involved in teaching in the Schools and give lectures as part of the RA’s education programme. In 2011 Tracy Emin and Fiona Rae were the first women to be appointed professors, of drawing and painting respectively.

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin (via)

fiona rae (via)

fiona rae (via)

And now, some work from the current graduates. They’ve had three years with free tuition … but first had to be chosen from some 1000 applicants!

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

 

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater (feel the warmth…) and of 6 Sheet

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

 

Work by Alex Clarke

Work by Alex Clarke

Up the stairs and you’re in the public part of the RA’s grand building … a different place.

ra-stairs

 


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