Sunday, November 10, 2019

Judy Chicago's Dinner Party at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Wing - Research

Judy Chicago's Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum's Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art
For historical photos, visit Chicago's site: Artist Link and for overview, the Brooklyn Museum's site: Museum Link.

Elizabeth Sackler is a philanthropist and activist who has worked on behalf of Native American and prison populations.
She was the first woman Chairman of the Brooklyn Museum's Board of Trustees. Though a Sackler she has no affiliation with the scandal surrounding other family members. 
Judy Chicago, like Sackler, grew up in a liberal family in Chicago, IL.  Her father suffered for his progressive beliefs in the McCarthy era, dying young. Encouraged by her mother, Chicago made art from the time she was three and later attended UCLA and SAIC. As a graduate student, she painted vaginal forms. (all this from Wikipedia)

It gets really interesting here: "Chicago would also experiment with performance art, using fireworks and pyrotechnics to create "atmospheres", which involved flashes of coloured smoke being manipulated outdoors. Through this work she attempted to "feminize" and "soften" the landscape.[16](Levin)
From Wikipedia: "Judy Chicago became aware of the sexism that was rampant in modern art institutions, museums, and schools while getting her undergraduate and graduate degree at UCLA in the 1960s. Ironically, she didn’t challenge this observation as an undergrad. In fact, she did quite the opposite by trying to match – both in her artwork and in her personal style –  what she thought of as masculinity in the artistic styles and habits of her male counterparts. Not only did she begin to work with heavy industrial materials, but she also smoked cigars, dressed “masculine”, and attended motorcycle shows.[49] This awareness continued to grow as she recognized how society did not see women as professional artists in the same way they recognized men. Angered by this, Chicago channeled this energy and used it to strengthen her feminist values as a person and teacher."

"While most teachers based their lessons on technique, visual forms, and color, the foundation for Chicago’s teachings were on the content and social significance of the art, especially in feminism.[50}(keifer-boyd, karen)"

"The art created in the Feminist Art Program and Womanhouse introduced perspectives and content about women’s lives that had been taboo topics in society, including the art world.[53][54] In 1970 Chicago developed the Feminist Art Program at California State University, Fresno, and has implemented other teaching projects that conclude with an art exhibition by students such as Womanhouse with Miriam Schapiro at CalArts...", which Cal Arts students Mira Schor, Faith Wilding and others participated in, and I grew up highly aware of as a student in LA.
Also really interesting: "In the early 2000s, Chicago organized her teaching style into three parts preparation, process, and art-making.[50] Each has a specific purpose and is crucial. During the preparation phase, students identify a deep personal concern and then research that issue. In the process phase, students gather together in a group to discuss the materials they plan on using and the content of their work. Finally, in the art-making phase, students find materials, sketch, critique, and produce art."

Having taught, now working independently, I see how the guild model, then the university system brought artists together, and organized them. Such systems make dialog and projects like the Dinner Party possible. Art centers also serve this purpose.
"Inspiration for The Dinner Party came from personal experience where Chicago found herself at a male dominated event. This event included highly educated men and women, however the men dominated the conversation and essence of the space. Chicago highlights important women that are often overlooked, giving credit to those who have stepped up for women's rights."
 Alice Walker was quoted in Hyperallergic as commenting, "Alice Walker, the author of “The Color Purple” and architect of the term “womanist,” was one of earlier critics of “The Dinner Party’s” racial dynamic, saying:
I was gratified … to learn that in the “Dinner Party” there was a place “set,” as it were, for black women. The illumination came when I stood in front of it. All the other plates are creatively imagined vaginas … The Sojourner Truth plate is the only one in the collection that shows-instead of a vagina — a face. In fact, three faces. … It occurred to me that perhaps white women feminists, no less than white women generally, cannot imagine that black women have vaginas."
"Chicago ... took action to teach women about their history. This action would become Chicago's masterpieceThe Dinner Party, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.[29] It took her five years and cost about $250,000 to complete.[10] First, Chicago conceived the project in her Santa Monica studio: a large triangle, which measures 48-feet by 43-feet by 36-feet, consisting of 39 place settings.[17] Each place setting commemorates a historical or mythical female figure, such as artists, goddesses, activists and martyrs. The embroidered table runners are stitched in the style and technique of the woman's time.[30] "

Responding to criticisms of this work, Judy Chicago comments, "“At the time I was working on The Dinner Party, in the mid-1970s, there was little or no knowledge about any of these women. The prevailing point of view was that women had no history. It is important to remember that our research was done before the advent of computers, the Internet, or Google search.” (Hyperallergic)

The Hyperallergic article alludes to an exchange between Chicago and Esther Allen in 2018, published in the New York Review of Books: NYRB Link

Allen wrote, "Chicago contends that there was little or no knowledge about these women here in 1974–1979, while The Dinner Party was being created. That is debatable. To take only one case, Frida Kahlo: 1910–1954, the first solo retrospective of Kahlo’s work in this country, curated by Hayden Herrera, opened to acclaim in 1978 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago." (I recall seeing Kahlo's retrospective at UCSD in 1977.) Perhaps the best conclusion is Chicago's: "How unfortunate that women continue to feel the need to denigrate the work of their foremothers in order to acknowledge more contemporary contributions. We need to build upon each other’s achievements if we are ever to break the cycle of erasure that I tried to overcome through The Dinner Party." 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Anne Swartz's FB Documentation of “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985" at MOCA Grand Ave., LA

Anne Swartz has been documenting With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985" at MOCA Grand St., LA, on her Facebook page. After its LA run, the survey exhibition travels to Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College in June 2020 to assuage eager East Coasters. Anne Swartz kindly granted permission to share her posts on individual artists in the show, which document thoughts and ideas she wants to store or develop. There will be subsequent posts as her feed continues. Her direct feed is here:  Anne Swartz Facebook Feed

We begin with Swartz's most recent post on this exhibition featuring Dee Shapiro's Rotunda I, 1980, about which Swartz observes, "This intricate painting shows the artist’s intense investigation with patterning, influenced by mathematics, nature, and weaving. Her method involves extreme precision. She was connected to Pattern Painting and to the Criss-Cross Collective, as well as being centrally involved in NY Feminist Art activity of the 1970s. Her work deserves more widespread attention and recognition."
Dee Shapiro

Dee Shapiro Detail
And here I quote Robert Zakanitch, “what a great painting that is!” Vivacious composition and fun colors, beautiful rendering and immediately appealing scenario, this painting takes you from the large, sweet faces of the faeries poking out around the flora, down to the playful little pom-poms along the edge. It’s unexpected and thoroughly entrancing. Robert Kushner, Faeries, 1980 in “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985”.
Early Robert Kushner

What a fresh face! Like Miami Art Deco meets domestic textiles, such a great painting. Robert Zakanitch, Angel Feet, 1978 in “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985”.

Robert Zakanitch
Zakanitch Detail

The seeming endless variety of stitches are like decorative friezes or bands. Up at @moca is Jane Kaufman’s Embroidered, Beaded Crazy Quilt of 1983-85 and on the cover of the “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985”. Jane Kaufman, like all the P&D artists, was heavily influenced by past examples of quilts (among other forms) and wanted to honor those traditions. Jane was heavily involved in 1970s-90s NY feminist art activity, which informed her practice. At its center, the oeuvre recalls anonymous women's work. Quilts became the hot commodity with feminism, but also remember the Whitney had the Abstract Design in American Quilts show in 1972, signaling a shift in the recognition of craft practices, which P&D artists wanted. Marcia Tucker included this quilt as a bed covering in her 1996 Labor of Love show at the New Museum. It's difficult to see examples of Kaufman's work, unfortunately. She made screens out of peacock feathers (an ode to Victoriana, esp Whistler's Peacock Room, a major influence on several of the artists) and pearls (an example of her tribute to and love of Rene Lalique). 

Jane Kaufman, this detail taken by LA-based artist, Sarajo Frieden (Artist Link)

Jane Kaufman

Joyce Kozloff, Striped Cathedral, 1977, 72 x 180 inches (skewed angle b/c too many people in the gallery) Here’s the idea of travel as an image and painted manifestation of progressing in space. Special opportunity to see this painting in “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985”.

Joyce Kozloff

Miriam Schapiro, detail of the Seraglio In Miriam Schapiro with Sherry Brody, The Dollhouse, 1972, originally installed in Womanhouse, only surviving part of temporary installation by Miriam Schapiro, @judy.chicago, and their students at the CalArts Feminist Art Program on exhibit in @annanotana “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-85”. Glad it is in the show, signals this movement originated in Feminist Art. Pastiche and appropriation as a way to connect to the greater world at a time when that was verboten. 

Miriam Schapiro, et alia - CalArts Feminist Program

In “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1975-1985,” Brad Davis’s Rabbit + Two Dogs = Desire of 1979, Top of the Peak of 1980, and Bird & Lotus Tondo #4 of 1979 showcase his spirited meditation on Persian miniatures and Chinese painting, esp ceramics. He was combining many sources but one in particular is fascinating, Shahnama (The Book of Kings) since across the street from @moca @thebroadmuseum has @shirin__neshat series which include her use of the text and image in her photographs (her copy is on view). I can’t look at his paintings now without seeing Pierre Bonnard. He told me how he and his wife @janisprovisor (the renowned painter) went to the Tate show last spring and just stood before canvases asking “how did he do that?” They would look separately and together, marveling at his colors and compositions. This exhibition will prompt many artists to think about figuration in concert with ornament and decoration. 

Brad Davis

Brad Davis

Brad Davis installation

Brad Davis

Inspired inclusion by @annanotana of Sylvia Sleigh’s Turkish Bath of 1973 in “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration 1972-1985”. There because the cast of characters includes Lawrence Alloway, (reclining in the foreground), the artist’s husband and a critic and curator; John Perrault (center seated with beard), who curated and wrote about P&D back in the day; Carter Ratliff (seated in back), who also wrote about P&D and ornament during the era; and Scott Burton kneeling. Parenthetically “embracing” the composition, she included the double portrait of one of her favorite models, Paul Rosano. Several things drew me into its presence in the show: how it points at the romanticism and sentimentality in P&D’s revisionism; the revision of her historical source, Ingres’s Turkish Bath, 1862, with male subjects to show she could take on art history; as a corollary to all the other redefinitions of Art History in P&D; her love of patterning and all the ways she employed it; the pleasureful aspects, esp her love of showcasing the nude (she loved Playgirl for poses); the visual culture of the era, like the textiles and interior; and her devotion to her Pre-Raphaelite sources for their colors, subjects, and surface activity. Much to think about there. 

Sylvia Sleigh, Detail, Turkish Bath

Sylvia Sleigh

Sylvia Sleigh

Sylvia Sleigh, Turkish Bath
Another reason to go see “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985” are @smythned sculptures and the way he created such intense contrast between the decorative mosaics and the smooth architectonic bases. These photos do not do the pieces justice. Based on his life going back and forth to Italy, the son of an important Renaissance art historian, he mixed Ancient and Byzantine surfaces, and more. The next image is “The Garden,” his sculptural 1977 collaborative with @bradleyddavis (paintings)—a contemporary take on the pleasure garden. Speaks to Holly Solomon’s support for the movement (it was in her gallery). I also include images of The Upper Room, 1987 in Battery Park City with the detail of the Tree of Life centerpiece there to show one example of his public art and where some of these shapes, surfaces, and forms would culminate. 

Ned Smyth and Brad Davis at Holly Solomon Gallery

Ned Smyth, Battery Park City

Ned Smyth, MOCA LA

Ned Smyth, MOCA LA

Thank you, Anne Swartz, for the selection and overview of the Pattern and Decoration artists at MOCA LA and in June 2020 Bard's Hessel Museum in "With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985". Pattern and Decoration was a major movement when I came of age at UCLA, and resonates more than ever now with the feminist underpinnings you point out, as well as its collaborative emphasis, global inspiration, and reconsideration of timeless structures.