I visited the NYC Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) last week to see the exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (through August 13). The show is fabulous and all the most exciting abstract artists (who happen to be women) are included. The curators selected works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including almost 100 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles, and ceramics by more than 50 artists. I loved how the works were installed in the galleries. I am a keen critic when it comes to exhibition installation. It takes a team to select the great works and it takes a team to install the best exhibition.
The curatorial team included Starr Figura, curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, curator, Department of Photography, with Hillary Reed, curatorial assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints. According to the online comments, the installation was loosely chronological and synchronous, with works that range from gestural canvases by Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell to radical geometries by Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Gego. There are fiber weavings by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, and Lenore Tawney. There’s collage Anne Ryan. There are paintings – both large and very white by Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama. The last gallery includes a large sculpture by Lee Bontecou. There’s a hanging sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (it looks very heavy), and – my favorite – a wall installation by Eva Hesse done with industrial materials. It’s a stellar cast. I include some of these artists below with images taken at the exhibition (my iPhone) as well as images from the MoMA website. Visit the exhibition online here. I hope you get to see the show and see all the media and all the artists.
The painting seen here is 6×6 feet, done by Agnes Martin (American, born Canada, 1912-2004). Titled The Tree, it’s oil and pencil on panel, and dated 1964. Image: copyright Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. This is a very white painting with faint pencil lines on canvas. When you walk up close you see it clearly. From a distance everything is quiet and delicate. Agnes Martin had a recent retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC – I made sure I got to see it more than once, and also attended a panel program at the Museum. I heard that Martin made all her pencil lines by hand. Amazing. Her work is highly regarded and her career and persona are fascinating. Here’s a link to see images and a video from the Guggenheim Museum show.
The image nearby is by Carmen Herrera (born 1915, Havana, Cuba). It’s untitled and dated 1952. The artist is still working and showing her paintings and sculpture at age 102. I love this painting because it has black and white stripes that create the illusion of triangles. Notice the top and bottom of the painting where there’s black against white and white against black. Carmen Herrera was and is always focused on the edges of her paintings and sculptures. Herrera studied art, art history and architecture in Havana and then in Paris, France where she because part of an international artist’s group called the Salon des Realties Nouvelle. She distilled her geometric style of abstraction in Paris. She reduced her color palette to three, then two colors for each canvas. She created hard-edged canvasses at the same time Ellsworth Kelley (also in Paris) developed his style. The Museum website says: Herrera’s ascetic compositions prefigured the development of Minimalism by almost a decade, but the artist did not receive the critical attention she deserved. I saw this same image by Carmen Herrera at the Whitney Museum of American Art at her 2016/2017 solo exhibition titled Lines of Sight. See more images and read about the Whitney exhibition here.
The work nearby is by Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929). I’m a great fan. Here work and career are amazing. This painting is very white and looks like lace. It has dimension. It’s untitled, done in 1959 and oil on canvas (41 ½ x 52 inches). Yayoi Kusama is almost 90 years old and still exhibiting everywhere. Her white painting in this exhibition looks nothing like current images that you see in galleries and museums. Recent exhibitions include installation with ceramic pumpkins and polka dots in mirrored spaces. When you think of Kusama, you think kaleidoscopic imagery and incredible color. The painting at MoMA is copyright 2017 Yayoi Kusama. I posted a blog about Kusama in 2012 – titled Collage Exploded – about her solo show that year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. All about dots. See it here. The David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, NY, represents Kusama, and organized Infinity Mirrors, Kusama’s current North American traveling exhibition (2017-2019), a survey of the artists’ evolution to create art in immersive infinity rooms. The traveling exhibition includes sculpture, installation and large scale paintings. Read about Infinity Mirrors here.
Women Artists: Eclipsed Careers
I’ve already said that every work in the exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction is part of the permanent collection at MoMA. But, many works are exhibited for the first time or in a long time. I’ve listed who donated the art to the Museum. Most of the artists – because they are women – were eclipsed in their careers by the “big guns” (i.e. male artists) and did not have a solo museum exhibition during their lifetime. That’s all changing now.
The image at left is by Elsa Gramcko (Venezuelan 1925-1994). It’s untitled, 39×13 inches, 1957, oil on canvas and painted with a deep Yves Klein blue, with black, white, red, yellow and green in a bold geometric design. The blue and white together are radiant. This is not a big painting in size, but the saturated colors and design are totally captivating. I noticed it immediately as soon as I walked into the gallery space. The painting was a promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, 2016.
I recognized the image at left as soon as I saw it. It’s a stainless steel curvilinear sculpture by Lygia Clark (Brazilian, 1920-1988), titled The Inside is the Outside, 1963, 16 x 17 ½ x 14 ¾ inches. Lygia Clark had a retrospective exhibition at MoMA in 2014 organized around three key themes: abstraction, Neo-Concretism and the “abandonment” of art (the last was participatory). The MoMA says Clark became a major reference for contemporary artists dealing with the limits of conventional art forms. Read about the 2014 Lygia Clark exhibition: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1998 here. This curvy steel sculpture is another gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, 2011.
Here is my image of a sculpture by Eva Hesse. I saved my favorite image for last. I am intrigued with the industrial materials she used to make art, and by the shape the materials create on the wall. This conceptual sculpture is untitled, dated 1966, and made with enamel paint and string over papier-mâché with elastic cord, approximate size is 33 1/2 x 26 x 2 1/2 inches. Eva Hesse was German-American (1936 – 1970) and is associated with Minimalism and Feminist Art. In this work, contour is the primary concept. Notice the shape. Hesse’s work demonstrated to a new, postwar generation how to distill feelings and conceptual references down to a set of essential forms and contours. Her career spanned little more than a decade. Even though she died young, she left a huge legacy for others to follow. She said: In my inner soul art and life are inseparable. I think art is a total thing. Her work has remained popular and highly influential to important international artists who followed, including Louise Bourgeois, Bill Jensen, Martin Puryear and Brice Marden. Words associated with Eva Hesse’s works: wit, whimsy, evocative and spontaneous invention. Her media were casually found, everyday materials. Important critics describe her forms as languid and proto-feminist. Read about her Life and Legacy here.
I am always impressed with the talented teams that curate an exhibition – what they choose to include and how they choose to organize how the show is installed. This exhibition is about great artists (who happen to be women) who were marginalized in the art world during the post World War II period. The MoMA, and other museums, are making amends for that exclusion.
This show feels contemporary. That’s a compliment from me.
I want to recommend a new book I’ve just read that I found at the MoMA bookstore after I saw the exhibition. I always stop at the bookstore to find a little book to add to my library. I like little books to carry and read if I’m on the train, waiting for an appointment, etc. Ideally, the book doesn’t have too many pages, there are lots of images and really good text. I found Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? An A to Z Guide to the Art World by Kyung An and Jessica Cerasi (2016, Thames & Hudson). The book is fun to read and answers 4 basic questions: What is contemporary art? What makes it contemporary? What is it for? And why is it so expensive? The authors discuss museums and the art market, the rage for biennales and the next big thing. Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? examines how artists are propelled to stardom, explains what curators do, and challenges our understanding of artistic skill, demystifying the art market, and much, much more. Every short chapter includes a 2-page commentary and an image by or about a significant work by a contemporary artist. Both authors are highly qualified to write about the contemporary art world. Kyang An is an Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, NY and Jessica Cerasi is Exhibition Manager at Carroll/Fletcher and was Assistant Curator of the 20th Biennale of Sydney in 2016.
Get the book Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? and go see the MoMA exhibition before it closes August 13. You’ll find there are artists you love and didn’t know about. There are more than 100 works by 50 artists to see. Email me your comments about your favorite artists and works in the show. Tell me if you agree that many works also seem contemporary in spirit in spite of the fact they were created so many years ago. Tell me what you think about the sculpture by Eva Hesse. Thank you for your comments.