Women in art come Out Of The Shadows at Miami Art Museum
By Jud Yalkut
Unlike most exhibitions which feature women artists, whether from a feminist or political point of view, the new and massively important Out of the Shadows: The Rise of Women in Art at the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio offers a penetrating survey that moves from women as subjects to creators of art. Incredibly drawn predominantly from the museum’s collection, supplemented by about 50 outside pieces from private collectors plus one artist, the exhibition runs in two parts: the first through December 10 and the second, featuring photography, textiles and material culture, through May 12, 2012.
Jason Shaiman, New York-born curator of the museum who came here from the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina, said he had the realization that until the 1960s, women artists did not have a lot of recognition. Starting with the famed “Venus Willendorf” (24,000-22,000 BCE) discovered in Austria in 1908, Shaiman notes that “we don’t know what these early and ancient figures represent, or whether they are deities or goddesses, or even if they were made by a man or a woman.”
Archeological examples from the collection include pieces from North Syria, Mexico and Honduras, ranging from 1900-1759 BCE to 800-1200 CE, as well as small Greek and Roman head fragments (300-100 BCE). Significantly, Shaiman writes that “some of these female worship figures stood alongside men at the time, denoting significant status from women in society.”
Several women artists have emerged from the 17th century, including the best known Artemisia Gentileschi whose “Judith Beheading Holofernes” allegedly refers to her rape by her teacher, Agostino Tassi. The 19th century began a rise of women in art, including Impressionist figurative painters like Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzalèz. The famed 1913 Armory international show in New York included 50 women among a total of 300 artists.
Men portraying women as subjects included: the Dutchman Josef Israels (1824-19ll) with a peasant woman praying before her “Evening Meal”; American Raphael Soyer (b. Russia 1899-1997) in a beautifully textural handcolored lithograph of “The Seamstress” (1930-39); Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) with his sculptural early figure interpretation “Studio Sketch of a Woman” (c. 1924) in ink on paper; and Frank Duveneck (1848-1919), whose class at the Art Academy of Cincinnati included 13 women out of 21 students, with his darkly paletted oil “The Quadroon.”
Out of the Shadows includes a number of artists with local connections to Oxford, the Oxford College and Western Colleges for Women, Miami University and the greater Cincinnati area. From Western College came Annette Covington (1872-1964) with her delicate charcoal on paper “Mary Covington” (1902) in a bonnet with a veil, the light-filled watercolor “Yard Scene” (1893), notated “At Sebago, Maine- Douglas Mountain” and her more typically dark-toned “Mount Hielzan, Kyoto, Japan” (1909), influenced by Van Gogh with its urgent brushstrokes and swirling clouds.
Audrey Flack (b. 1931), who donated her early pieces to the museum after a show 20 years ago, has an oil “Self-portrait with Dark Face” (1960) and her both dense and airy “Self-portrait-Anatomy Lesson” (oil, 1953). The latter piece recalls her experience: “I was immediately drawn to the study of anatomy. It wasn’t allowed during my formal education at Yale, and I finally studied anatomy in 1952 at the Art Students League in New York.”
Shaiman has organized Out of the Shadows into three major parts: “From Subject to Creator” including a Romanian “Madonna” reverse painted on glass (mid-19th century) and European miniature watercolor portraits in tortoise shell frames (18th century), with a curator talk on Wednesday, October 12; “A Flowering Spirit” with a talk on women and landscape painting on Wednesday, November 2; and “The Modern Woman” with the dramatic attention to abstraction by women “no longer restricted by male-dominated art academies” with a curator talk on Thursday, December 1.
Out of the Shadows is filled with glorious and wondrous surprises of works rarely, if ever, before exhibited: Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) with her intense etching and engraving “Self-portrait” (1910) and her dark “Self-portrait with Lamp”; April Foster’s gentle lithograph “Garden II” (1985); the Impressionist Lilian Westlatt Hale (1881-1963), who studied with William Merrit Chase, with her whimsical “Sunday Best” (c.1913); Dixie Selden (1968-1935), who studied with Duveneck, with her “Brittany Quay” (1929-36), and her brilliant neo-Van Gogh “Olive Tree” (1934-35); Vera Klement (b. Germany, 1937) whose dramatically textured “Birches/Embrace” reveals a multi-colored woman growing out of the root base out of trunk columns.
Magnificent contemporary works include: “The Universal Female Gospel Nok II” (c.1985), a shaped unframed acrylic by Columbus’ Barbara Chavous (1936-2008) based on Nigerian themes; Polish-born Anna Socha Van Matre (b. 1952, resides in Cincinnati) with her multi-level silkscreened collage “Blue Red Yellow” (2006) and her giant seven-panel “Metamorphosis-Water” (1999-2001) in graphite and pastel on paper, including a homage to Hokusai; an untitled 1976 gouache by New York gallerist Betty Parsons; Sonia Delauney (French, 1885-1979), a co-founder of Orphism with her colorist husband Robert, with a 1950 abstraction; the iconic Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) with her monochrome “Rain Garden Zag IX” (1978) wall-construction of found wood and paint; and two surrealistic examples of Anne Sperry’s (1934-2009) “My Piano” 22-part series of found metal and piano parts, with “1” (2000) wall-mounted in a bed of velvet, and “22” (2003) with growths out of a metal sphere, both constructed out of “reused music instruments.”
The Miami University Art Museum is located at 801 Patterson Ave. in Oxford, Ohio. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 12-5 p.m. Saturday with free admission. For more information call (513) 529-2232 or visit www.arts.muohio.edu/artmuseum.
Reach DVP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at Visuals@DaytonCityPaper.com.