Thursday, September 23, 2010


Arahmaiani's Artist Statement:
To be a feminist means one must face formidable challenges from the conservatives and the fundamentalists. Conflict happens because the religious conservatives and fundamentalists don’t want to loose the legitimacy of their power! And the second challenge is the impact of globalization, where the woman and her body tend to be exploited. Her body may be bought and sold in the cheap labour market. The authorities and the global economic decisions makers often stand on the side of the conservatives and the fundamentalists in their attitude towards those groups who are weak.

Arahmaiani is from Bandung, Indonesia (b.1961). Her work has been exhibited internationally such as at the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia, in 1996; the Bienal de La Habana, Havana, Cuba, in 1997; the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France, and Werkleitz Biennale, Germany, in 2000; the Sao Paulo Bienal, Brazil, the Kwangju Biennale, South Korea, in 2002; and the Venice Biennale in 2003 and at the Global Feminisms exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007. She does performance art, painting, drawing, installation, poetry, dance, and music.

From Nafas Art Magazine:
Arahmaiani is a key figure in the current art scene in Indonesia....Her father is an Islamic scholar and her mother is of Javanese Hindu-Buddhist extraction. Already their daughter’s name was a compromise. She readily explains that "Arahma" goes back to the Arabic language meaning „loving“, and „iani“ comes from „human being“ in Hindi. Her upbringing saw the coexistence of both convictions: whereas her father provided a strict Islamic culture and instruction, her mother’s family enabled her to learn Javanese dances, songs, legends, poetry, and custom....Arahmaiani considers that her natural inclination to play the role of a mediator between the worlds is anchored in her origins....

In addition, it is part of Arahmaiani’s ethos as a female artist to use her public presence in order to attract attention to violence against women in general and to female discrimination in Indonesia’s Islamic society in particular. A fundamental aspect of her criticism of the prevailing interpretation of Islam is that men derive their claim to sole authority in decision taking from it. She acts against religion as a rigid set of rules and defends her right to her own interpretation as an individual and as a woman....

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, Arahmaiani felt prompted to combine/complement her critical attitude towards Islam with a fight against its general stigmatization. When she is intent on trying to make people mostly of the Western world understand that the majority of Muslims are just as peace-loving as themselves, she does not consider that she is defending this religion, but simply pure common sense.

Some of her paintings have been of Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck in commentary about the USA and some it's actions (she was confined in LA while trying to travel to Canada in 2002 - what with being from a Muslim country). She also has done performances where she invites people to write on her. Her more recent landscapes are painterly gray landscapes with words. From a description of a 2005 exhibition at Valentine Willie Fine Art, Bangsar, KL:

The paintings will be supported with photographs of Iani’s body/text works, by Bernice Chauly, and an interactive performance at the opening. The link to the three components of the exhibition is text. In the paintings, Arahmaiani has laid words across the landscapes, discussing cultural and social issues and adding that provocative element which is her benchmark. The issue sitting beneath the work is exploitation of the art market.

Video of Arahmaiani at the Global Feminisms at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gillian Ayres and Therese Oulton

____________Gillian Ayres

______________________Therese Oulton

Gillian Ayres and Therese Oulton are British painters who paint rather expressively. Gillian Ayres was born in 1930 - her paintings reflect more the influence of Abstract Expressionism - she started out being inspired by Jackson Pollock. Therese Oulton was born in 1953 and her work is more neo-expressionist along the lines of Anselm Kiefer- in that more depth in shown, and the newer paintings also incorporate landscape in an expressionistic manner. Both artists use thick paint and textures.

Gillian Ayres - Tachiste Painting No.1 1957

Gillian Ayres - Antony and Cleopatra 1982

From the Tate online:
'Anthony and Cleopatra' was painted in the artist's studio at Llaniestyn, North Wales in the winter of 1981-2. It contrasts with the densely worked surfaces of her paintings during the 1970s. Ayres has explained that she wanted to achieve a sense of the sublime through the scale of markings. It also differs from other paintings of the early 1980s in having a yellow ochre ground rather than a white ground. The reason for this was that she was snowed in for several days and was unable to purchase any white lead. As usual, the title was given after the painting was completed. Ayres's titles do not describe the subject of the paintings. Rather the titles have a 'resonance' which relates to the character of each work.
(From the display caption September 2004)

A roomful of Ayre's at the British School at Rome


Therese Oulton - DISSONANCE QUARTET NO. 3 1986

From the Tate Online Oulton is quoted:
a series of oil paintings called ‘Dissonance Quartet’ which I showed in Vienna while I was living in Vienna. The reference was to Mozart's ‘Dissonance Quartet’. It was the idea that the ‘Dissonance Quartet’ does not end on a tonic resolution; and it was the idea of taking something of wholeness, like harmony or the circle, and then emptying that of its usual connotations. At the time, my particular concern was to take given meanings and see if they were still workable, or whether the weight of meaning was too great to use any more...

In the series things were turned inside out, and body metaphors, I think, began to creep in ... I began to like where the armour-plating became the flesh, so it was kind of turned inside out. There was often a kind of ribbing that could have been something protective. And the surface is bowed out like a Counter-Reformation Mannerist type of painting.

Therese Oulton - Untitled No.3 2007

Some of Therese Oulton's paintings merely suggest nature, but many of her later works (as can be seen at the Marlborough Gallery site) look like views from airplanes. Many with cites and roads suggested, some with shorelines. The landscapes look rather cut-up- in that there is the sense that human buildings have altered the landscapes. Some of her newer ones are oil on aluminum - most are oil on canvas.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Judy Chicago & Feminist Content

Judy Chicago created art with content and meaning at a time when content and meaning were being scorned. It's no surprise to me that the art with content and meaning is the more survivable. In retrospect it's nice to have some idea what people were thinking in a certain time.

In the 70s - when the historically disenfranchised were finding and creating unique modes of expression - the mainstream art world was saying that there was nothing to say.

__________________Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, now at home in the Brooklyn Museum, addresses Female agency and the problem of erasure throughout most of recorded history. I am acutely aware of exceptional women who have been "forgotten" (on purpose) and the effect that that can have on women's identity. I especially appreciate the Dinner Party and that it does have a home in Brooklyn, where I can visit (I've been there once so far, and expect to return).

From Women, Art and Society (Whitney Chadwick):

In 1981, Griselda Pollock and Roszika Parker argued that the iconography of Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, specifically it's vaginal imagery, was retrograde because it set itself up for exploitation: It is easily retrieved and co-opted by a male culture because [it does] not rupture radically meanings and connotations of women in art as body, as sexual, as nature, as object for male possession."

____________________So it's interesting to see how the art is perceived nearly 30 years later. At the time, I think the "vaginal" imagery seemed more "shocking". In retrospect, and actually seeing all of the plates - the art is not as sexual as it may sound. Many of the plates look more like flowers than vulvas. Just as much phallic art does not look so much penile, as suggestive of the form.

To Pollock's and Parker's that the art be "easily retrieved and co-opted by a male culture", for one thing, I don't think that is the case (with this - but I agree that it easily can be with more obviously sexual art), but for another, with the main gist of the art being about women's history and lost contributions, if the art is such that it can be integrated into male culture and art history - then all the better. Not only will Judy Chicago and feminism have it's place in history, so will many of the women who are represented with place settings.

There are such great references on so many levels - women having a place at the table (often denied) while women having been the ones to set the table and create the atmosphere, often taken for granted, often anonymously. That it was a group project with many women involved is also an important part of the piece, what with that being how women have often worked historically.

Recently, Through the, another group of women working with Judy Chicago, has created a K-12 curriculum to help teachers use the Dinner Party as a learning vehicle. Much of this has all come about within the last 5 years. For quite awhile in between - the Dinner Party was in some sort of historical limbo (and in storage).

You never know how something in the present will be perceived in the future. Though whether a major museum anoints something as worthy is one huge part, and whether it is taught in schools in another. That women's art is represented to the extent that that they are in Museums is due the efforts of many, many women pushing for that - yet the under-representation sadly persists.

I love the Guerrilla Girls poster that reads, "When Racism and Sexism are no longer fashionable, What will your Art Collection be Worth". So far, white male art still has a stranglehold on most of the American art world. When I visited the MOMA a few months ago, I thought is was ridiculous how many Piscassos were hanging compared to the number of pieces by women. I would definitely rather see more art by women - I would not miss not seeing many of the Picassos. As the same GG poster states, one of those Jasper Johns (or Picassos) for 17.7 million would buy one each of app. 65-75 well known women artist's art. I would guess that there were something like 10 times as many Picassos (not to mention all of the other male art) as there was art by women.

I agree with Griselda Pollock, that male art should not be perceived as gender-free, while women's art is considered the "other", as if male art represented people and female art only represented women. If there is any sense of equality, the view of the world by women should be represented equally with the art by men. Museum directors (even some women ones) still hold on to the idea that the art by men is the influential art, while the art by women is not. But that is so, only as long as they make it so.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ana Mendieta

Prior to the 60s, women were advised to divorce art from female experience and self-awareness. During the 60s, various artists were breaking out from these restraints. Marisol, Eva Hesse, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar. Other artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, Alice Neel and Frida Kahlo finally started getting the attention they long deserved.

Ana Mendieta (American, born Cuba 1948–1985) came on the scene with her performance - earth/body images in 1972 - having studied intermedia at the University of Iowa. Some artists had been making monumental earth works and others had been making performance pieces with their bodies - and Mendieta made an interesting link with her earth-body pieces. Some of her pieces refer to prehistoric goddess imagery, many are about re-connecting humans and nature.

Grass On Woman - 1972 - Lifetime color photograph___________

In 1973, Judy Chicago (who will be speaking in Evansville next Monday) and Miriam Shapiro asked the question, 'What does it feel like to be a woman?" The art world had been so focused on the male point of view, that it was something to think about for women. Some women thought (still think?) that any male/female differences are a matter of socialization and are not real. But even then, there are different sensory issues, the ability to give birth, etc.

Imagen de Yagul -1973 - Lifetime color photograph___________

“I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette)… I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth… I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body…” - Ana Mendieta

Silueta Works in Mexico - 1973-78 -C-Print

"One beach sculpture consists of red bouganvillea blossoms in the shape of the artist’s body with arms raised. The incoming waves have washed away the lower part of the figure. For those familiar with Santeria, the symbolism is clear: Chango, a principal orisha, always is represented by the color red. His mistress is Yemayá, orisha of the ocean, whose frothy waves represent her lacy petticoats. Mendieta’s art shows Yemayá’s petticoats covering the legs of Chango, whose arms are raised in surprise or delight. Like the ocean, Yemayá represents both a loving and wrathful mother; they say you can take shelter from your enemies under her skirts, but if you provoke her anger, there is nowhere you can hide." (Virginia Miller Gallery)


Mendieta was among the first to reconnect with ancient concepts such as the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life goes back to some of the earliest of civilizations in and around the Middle East and Indus Valley. Some have speculated that the Tree of Life and Mother Goddess concepts traveled from India through or around Europe to Scandinavia and Ireland and even to the Americas. There are similarities in art, ideas, and rituals that connect Old India with Old Celtic / Viking and Aztec. The Tree of Life was a symbol that connected life and death, earth and sky.

Tree of Life - 1976 - Lifetime color photograph

Hirshorn Show
Virginia Miller Gallery Show

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mercedes Matter

Mercedes Matter - 1934
Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) was one of the founding members (at age 23 as Jeanne Carles) of American Abstract Artists in 1936. Other founding members included: Josef Albers and David Smith. Louise Bourgeois, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson joined later, as did many other well-known abstract artists.

She got work with the WPA, dated Arshile Gorky (when he was still a non-citizen and couldn't work for the WPA), studied with Alexander Archipenko & Hans Hoffman, and met Lee Krasner in jail. Mercedes and Lee were arrested for participating in a strike in 1935. Matter worked with Fernand Leger on murals.

1943-45 she spent in California, married to Herbert Matter and had a baby. She returned to NYC in 1946.

"Then it was the Cedar Bar and The Club itself. All kinds of nonsense went on about membership, about how to pick members, whether women should be admitted. There was quite a fuss about making Mercedes Matter the first female member of The Club and things like that"
-Leo Castelli

Matter wrote:
"The Artists’ Club was formed in which I was the one female original member in a very male dominated situation. However, the Club became a most unique and wonderful thing including artists of the widest divergence from Edwin Dickinson to Phillip Guston, Bradley Tomlin to Joan Mitchell, with the composers and writers as much a part. The Cedar Bar during those years was perhaps the best part of my education. As de Kooning said, “Art is something you can’t talk about and you talk about forever.”

"Influenced by the artistic precepts of Hofmann, Matter was a proponent of painting directly from nature. Her works are characterized by vigorous angular marks and geometricized rhythms. Many of her pieces represent a unique fusion of advanced gestural abstraction and a sensitive perceptual observation of landscape and still-life motifs." - Figge

The paintings that she created in the 30s are compared to Gorky's (of course he could have just as easily been influenced by her). Matter's painting above from 1940 suggests DeKooning's "Woman I" done in 1950. Mercedes Matter certainly seems to have been an influential figure in the Abstract Art genre - and yet I had never heard of her. The does not include her on their site, and she is absent from many accounts of art of the times.

She started teaching at the Philadelphia College of Art (now called the University of the Arts), Pratt and NYU. She was a visiting critic at Antioch, Brandeis, Cincinnati School of Art, Kansas City Art Institute, Maryland Institute, Yale University, Skowhegan and American University in Washington.

She was in groups shows:

American Abstract Artists, 1936-42

Stable Gallery, annual shows, 1950’s

Peridot Gallery, early 1950’s

Tanager Gallery, annual exhibitions, 1950’s and many others

In recent years her work has been seen in show such as "Pollock Matters" and "From Hartley to Hofmann
Provincetown Vignettes, 1899-1945"

She had her first one person show in 1956 at the Tanager Gallery.

It was apparently typical for women not to get one person show for years after their male peers had. (In an LA Weekly article, Doug Harvey suggests the reason for her late one-person show was her inability to commit to a solo show earlier.)

from 1962___________________

There is a retrospective of her work which is on it's last leg at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport Iowa - through January 2,2011.