The Woven Image at MoMA

I hope you’ve visited the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, and seen Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (April 15 – August 13, 2017). This show is important. I include links (below) to reviews with excellent images and comments about why this show is important.

Yayoi Kunama, No.F oil on canvas

I’ve seen this exhibition 3 times. My art practice is contemporary geometric abstraction and it was important to me to see how the curators selected the art and artists. I recognized the stars – Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929), Agnes Martin (American, born Canada, 1912-2004), Louise Nevelson (American, born Ukraine, 1899-1988), Louise Bourgeois (American born France, 1911-2010) (and others). The image here is by Yayoi Kusama. It’s titled No.F and is dated 1959. Media is oil on canvas, size is 41.5″x52″. This Kusama painting is in the permanent collection at MoMA.  Kusama is an international art star. I kept looking at it, trying to get as close as I could, to see the incredible texture of the white on white oil paint. It looked like eyelet fabric to me but was a painting.

I went to see Making Space a second time to really appreciate the extraordinary abstract paintings and sculpture by the Latin American superstars Carmen Herrera (Cuban, born 1915), Lygia Clark (Brazilian, 1920-1988) and Lygia Pape (Brazilian, 1927-2004). These three have also had recent solo retrospectives at NYC museums. I especially love the hard-edge geometric abstraction in paintings and sculpture by Carmen Herrera who is still at work at age 102. She is finally getting the recognition she deserves. See her black and white abstract painting below.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, painting on canvas, 1952

 

My third visit to Making Space was different. I wanted to see all the works that are woven because I have a new fascination with weaving and textiles, and the exhibition showcases this media in the context of great art.

 

Making Space at MoMA includes ninety-four works by fifty-three international artists. Every work but one has been in storage at the Museum. The exhibition was co-curated by Starr Figura and Sarah Meister with help from Hillary Reder. The Curator’s Say: Making Space shines a spotlight on the stunning achievements of women artists between the end of World War II (1945) and the start of the Feminist movement (around 1968). In the postwar era, societal shifts made it possible for larger numbers of women to work professionally as artists, yet their work was often dismissed in the male dominated art world, and few support networks existed for them. Abstraction dominated.

 

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Yellow Abakan

 

This work, titled Yellow Abakan, by Magdalena Abakamowicz (Polish, 1930-2017) fuses weaving with sculptural installation. It’s coarsely woven sisal, 124”x120”x60”

I read that Abakanowicz deliberately tried to blur the distinctions between art and craft. She chose to explore the structural (sculptural) qualities of fiber.

 

 

 

 

Sheila Hicks, Prayer Rug

 

The work seen here is by Sheila Hicks (American, born 1934) and is titled Prayer Rug. It’s made with hand-spun wool (87”x43”). Hicks wrote she was inspired by Morocco and prayer rugs and architecture with arches. To create this work, she went off loom, working like a ceramicist works, with the material in her hands.

 

The next work (below) is by Anni Albers (American, born Germany, 1899-1994) and is titled Free-Hanging Room Divider, 1949. Anni Albers was a protean force in textile innovation and design. The work here is made with cotton, cellophane, and braided horsehair, 87”x32.5.” Albers was focused on creating translucent space, thinking about how the weaving functioned in an architectural setting as a space divider.

 

See Peter Schjeldal’s review: THE XX FACTOR Women and Abstract Art (the New Yorker magazine, April 24, 2017).

Anni Albers, Wall Hanging

 

Schjeldal writes: The show’s inclusion of fabric and decorative art marks an insurgent appreciation, taking hold in the sixties, of formerly patronized modes of “women’s work.” He references Magdalena Abakanowicz “Yellow Abakan” (1967-68). He says it “… invites a fighting comparison with some far more well-known minimalist works in felt, from the same time, by Robert Morris.

This wall hanging by Anni Albers as tall as a tall adult and was installed so you walked by and saw it up close. It is transparent. You can see the floor behind the weaving in this image. I love the vertical stripes and the cellophane in the weaving.

 

 

 

Here is an image of me standing in front of a framed black and white weaving by Anni Albers. The work is exquisite in design and detail. I was visiting the exhibition at MoMA for the 2nd time and invited. Peggi Pugh to join me so we could compare notes on what works we liked best. She took the photo. In this gallery, every work  was a weaving or an image (a drawing or print) that looked like a weaving. We walked around the gallery slowly to be able to absorb all the different works.

 

woodcut by Lygia Pape
drawing by Yayoi Kusama

 

Here are two images that look like weaving but are not. The top image by Lygia Pape is untitled, from her series Weavings (Tecelares). It’s a woodcut print (dated 1959). The bottom image by Yayoi Kusama is titled Infinity Nets. It’s ink on paper (dated 1951). I thought it was interesting that the curators placed these two works in tandem, one on top of the other. I thought they were textiles from a distance, because the Anni Albers framed textile (above) was in the same gallery space. I was wrong – but they look exactly like textiles.

 

 

 

 

Lenore Tawney, Little River

 

 

Here is a view of a wall hanging by Lenore Tawney (American 1907-2007), titled Little River (1968). Photo credit: Nicole Craine. In his New York Times review, At MoMA, Women at Play in the Fields of Abstraction (April 13, 2017) Holland Cotter tells us: In the 1950s, Ms. Tawney lived in Lower Manhattan, where she counted Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Agnes Martin (who is also in the MoMA show) as neighbors. Living in an old shipping loft, she made the most radical work of any of them: towering open-warp fiber pieces that stretched from floor to ceiling and across the loft’s wide space. Yet, in 1990, when she finally had a retrospective, it took place not at MoMA, but at the American Craft Museum, which was then across the street.

 

 

 

Ruth Asawa, hanging mesh sculpture

 

I photographed this gallery installation. I was fascinated with the shadows cast on the floor beneath the mesh wire sculpture by Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013). The work was installed from the ceiling in the center of the gallery. Hanging from the ceiling was totally a unique concept. As was woven sculpture in mesh wire. On a wall across the room, you see Lenore Tawney’s Little River weaving (notice the cast shadows there on the wall behind the work). On another wall to the left, you see a small view of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s very large sisal Yellow Abakan. The installation was inviting and intriguing. People lingered and looked.

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Anne Ryan, collage 353

 

The image here is a collage by Anne Ryan (American 1889-1954) titled #353 dated 1949. I’m a collage artist and know Ryan was highly respected for her practice. Ryan worked with exquisite papers and also fabric and thread. Her works are small and delicate and deliberate. The Museum has four collages by this artist in the permanent collection, and the curators installed four Anne Ryan collages in the exhibition. At least two or three reviews, including ones by Peter Schjedahl and Holland Cotter and the Huffington Post start with this image. When I looked at this collage, I saw the threads and the thin papers. It’s a woven image also.

 

 

See the Artsy review by Abigail Cain (April 17, 2017), titled New MoMA Show Unearths Female Abstractionists That Have Languished in Storage.

Cain writes about gender inequality at the Museum. She also mentions the philanthropist Sarah Peter who can help remedy the imbalance. Sarah Peter launched the Modern Women’s Fund at MoMA in 2005 to target works by women artists for acquisition and to support major solo exhibitions by women. That’s a good start to bring about change.

Holland Cotter also writes about the gender inequality issue in his review of Making Space at MoMA and says: “This exhibition is a start, but ultimately to make changes and show women artists the respect they deserve, the MoMA should also reorganize the permanent-collection galleries that draw the largest crowds…Put Anne Ryan next to Kurt Schwitters and Jackson Pollock to see how that shakes out, historically and atmospherically… Put Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures up against Richard Serra’s fortresslike walls. “

I hope the MoMA and other museums make these changes. Please send me your comments.

 

 

Several people commented about my recent post Duality at the Islip Art Museum, where I am showing a two-panel abstract diptych in blue, black, white, green and gold ochre. See the image below. I submitted two images as digital files for review for this show. Scott Bluedorn was the juror who selected works in the exhibition. He is a long Island artist. His studio practice includes painting, drawing, collage, assemblage, installation, photography and cyanotype. He makes collages that are futuristic and Surrealistic.The exhibition is titled Duality: Glimpses of the Other Side and continues to September 17, 2017. Visit the Islip Art Museum, located at 50 Irish Lane, East Islip, NY on Long Island. Gallery hours are Th/F 10-4 and S/S 12-4.

 

nikkal, Blue Triangle Diptych

 

Blue Triangle Diptych is geometric abstraction in two parts (a diptych), 24 inches tall and 32 inches wide. The triangles are in different media and are arranged in a different pattern on each panel. One panel (on the left) is a collage made with painted papers. Every blue and black triangle is cut and pasted paper. One panel (on the right) is an acrylic painting. The paint is layered and I used tape to get sharp lines.

 

nikkal, Blue and White Triangle diptych

The 2nd entry, seen nearby, was not accepted for the exhibition. It’s a diptych and all collage on two panels and made with blue and white painted papers arranged as triangles. I love the range of blue and soft green and white in the painted papers. I prefer this triangle diptych, but was happy the juror accepted one work for the exhibition. It made me wonder how he made his decision. One of the comments to the post came from Karen Rand Anderson, an artist who lives and works in Rhode Island. She writes a blog, She said she liked the blue and white diptych better than the one the juror selected. I told her I agreed, but said I assumed the juror wanted to see juxtaposition, per the exhibition title, and the piece he selected has more dialogue going on. Maybe I was wrong.

The jury process is subjective

Here’s a little information about how it works – and it’s important to understand the process is a crapshoot. You can never assume any work will be accepted – unless the show is an invitational and the juror (curator) tells you he/she wants a specific piece. By definition, an invitational is never a juried show. Artists enter juried exhibitions all the time for different reasons, sometimes for prize money and also to build their resume. The typical juried show includes one juror who looks at digital image files for every work submitted and selects the works. Typically the juror is a professional artist or gallerist, sometimes a prominent art critic, and sometimes an artist with a regional, national or international exhibition reputation. What gets selected into the exhibition is his/her decision. Sometimes the works are selected first by image file review and then by direct visual inspection to make sure the work is the same as the image file.

I typically do not enter juried shows. I wrote that I entered this show because the exhibition title: Duality: Glimpses of the Other Side was intriguing. My work is abstract and not narrative. My new studio focus is about duality and the serendipity of mismatched twins. I see diptychs as fraternal twins. I like the concept that twins can be the same and also different. Even identical twins can be different (if they try). It takes looking to see how they are different. I intend to focus on diptychs.

Recently I interviewed two jurors about the process of how they select works for an exhibition.

 

The juror looks for strong works

I emailed Susan Hoeltzel, the juror for an annual show at the Upstream Gallery, 8 Main Street, Hastings on Hudson, NY titled PaperWorks (June 22-July 23, 2017). I am a member of this artist-run gallery and helped hang (install) the exhibition that includes a large and beautiful array of paintings, drawings, 3D sculpture and other works on paper submitted by local and regional artists. Gallery members do not enter or show work in this exhibition. The juror came to the gallery to see the exhibition after it was installed. I didn’t meet her and emailed her to ask how she selected the works for the show. I told her that gallery members were very pleased with the works she selected. I did not tell her I helped install the show. She replied: Thank you – I also think the exhibition looks great and extend my congratulations to the people who installed the show (It’s not that easy to hang a group show and the people who installed this one were sensitive to the transitions between the works, making it visually pleasing and leading the viewer from one work to the next.) I took that as a compliment. She wrote: In choosing the work, I was simply looking for strong work that represented a broad range of approaches – style, content, media, etc. She added she was working without information about dimensions, so was trying to make sure not too many works were selected for the space. It’s a big space and there are a lot of works to see.

Susan Hoeltzel is the former director of the Lehman College Art Gallery, City College of New York. Susan has exhibited her mixed media drawings on canvas nationally and internationally. Her works explore objects and the meaning we construct around them – about illusion and what we infer from the flat, two-dimensional surface of the work. Her most recent series deals with plants, particularly invasive species.

 

The juror picks what he likes

I spoke with the artist and educator Stuart Shils in person July 15 at the opening reception for the 9th National Juried Exhibition at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 West 25 Street, NY, NY (July 11-29, 2017).

 

nikkal at Prince St. Gallery

The image nearby is me standing in front of my collage titled Amok at the Prince Street Gallery opening on July 15. I submitted 3 entries that are part of a new series titled Curvy Geometric. Amok was accepted, seen here on the wall above another framed work.  Amok is made with painted papers, magazine text and  tan Washi papers with thin bamboo sticks. The Washi papers add a transparent layer. I’m a layerist. This framed work is 18 inches by 17 inches I was pleased that it was installed in the gallery on a small wall with only 4 works. There were about 50 works in the show, mostly small in size, mostly paintings.

I met the juror at the reception and complimented him on the exhibition he selected. I asked him to tell me how he chose. He said he picked what he liked. Simple. The show includes 45 artists. He said he rejected about 300 entries – that means 1 out of 7 artists was accepted. I said I was surprised to see so many semi-abstract and abstract paintings in the show. I checked Shils’ website before I entered the Prince Street Gallery juried show and basically entered because the juror’s works look like abstract paper collage. I asked Shils to tell me about his paper works. His answer surprised me. He said his work is not really collage. He said he puts papers together and then disassembles the work after he takes a photo. The product is the photo. It’s a collage concept. I did not ask if the photo is material or immaterial.

See works by Stuart Shils online, including window collages, painting, monotypes, drawing, photography, video and a book with his photographs titled “because I have no interest in those questions…” (Sold out).

 

The juror picks the art and creates the show

I remember a comment I heard many years ago about juried shows in a seminar led by the artist Kay WalkingStick. She is an American Artist and one of today’s most accomplished Native American contemporary landscape painters.

She basically said – don’t be upset if your work is not selected in a juried show. In some cases your work doesn’t fit the concept the juror intends. In some cases, the other works submitted are so different from what you submit that your work will look like it doesn’t belong in the show and that’s why it’s not accepted. She added: in some cases your work is so much better than all the rest that it can’t be included because all the others will look terrible in comparison. AND there are probably other reasons. Try to be positive.

Maybe the juror doesn’t like your work. Don’t take it personally.

Please add your comments. Tell me if you’ve been a juror and how you made your decisions. If you’re an artist, tell me if you enter juried shows. Tell me if you love or hate the process. Share what you know.