Reflecting on #5WomenArtists

There is nothing as fascinating and infuriating to me as women who have been erased by history. I constantly find myself enthralled by women whose accomplishments have been reduced to mere footnotes in books that should have been about them. My obsession began when I discovered that, like most people, I had greatly misunderstood the phase “well-behaved women seldom make history.” The quote, usually found screen printed onto splashy T-shirts and mugs next to pictures of Marilyn Monroe, was actually coined by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. It was not written in order to encourage women to misbehave in order to be remembered, but to draw attention to the fact that so many women who have made a positive impact on society have been forgotten. Their work may live on, but their names rarely possess the same immortality.

I was very excited to research for the Gund Gallery’s #5WomenArtists project for this very reason. As a Gund Associate, I have witnessed the talent and innovation of several female artists gracing our gallery. From Jodi Bieber’s dreamlike photos of South Africa to the striking the portraits in Rania Matar’s “She” series, I have found myself constantly amazed by how women are changing the world of art.

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RaniaMatar.com

Our goal with #5WomenArtists was to find connections between contemporary artists and artists of the past, as well as to shine a light on women whose contributions may have been overlooked. My fellow associates and I worked hard to find a diverse and engaging group of women to research for the project. Narrowing the list down to five was far more difficult than we could have anticipated. Since the number of underrated women in the art world is practically countless, we felt guilty leaving so many out. However, once we had our list of 5 women finalized, we were satisfied.

One of the first artists we added to the list was Louise Nevelson. Nevelson was a Russian-born American sculptor known for her contributions to the abstract expressionist movement. She was monumentally important to the budding Feminist art scene in New York in the 1970s. Using materials (usually scrap wood) she found around her apartment, Nevelson’s work communicated the enormity and diversity of New York City itself. Her sculptures are larger than life, in order to break the assumption that only art created by men could be large-scale. She made a statement simply by taking up the space she felt she deserved.

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Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Similarly to Nevelson, Corita Kent, known as Sister Mary Corita, refused to shy away from politics. She was probably my favorite artist to research, simply because her life was so fascinating. Kent was an American Roman Catholic nun, artist, and educator. Her bold, colorful silkscreen pieces conveyed messages of love and peace, causing her to become a popular figure in the movements of social upheaval during the 1960s and 1970s. For years, critics refused to acknowledge how contributional Kent was to the mid-twentieth century Pop Art movement. However, attention in recent years has brought forth a resurgence of appreciation to Kent’s artwork.

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Arthur Evans / Tang Teaching Museum

Faith Ringgold is a Harlem-based artist best known for her narrative quilts, although she is accomplished in many different mediums. Inspired by a trip to Paris, the “French Collection” is a series of quilts that utilizes striking colors and childlike mysticism in order to explore the past and present of peoples of African descent. As France was known as the home of modern art at the time of Ringgold’s visit, Ringgold chose it as a source in which to examine the African American “modern” identity. Ringgold is also notable for her participation in political protests for justice in the art world. In 1970, Ringgold was arrested for her part in protesting a modernist exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art that featured no women or African American artists. Throughout her life, Ringgold has remained an engaging artist and a voice for change.

ACA Galleries, New York

One contemporary artist we chose to feature is Claire Beckett, a photographer who uses her art to examine the relationships between Americans and the Muslim world. Some of Beckett’s subjects include American converts to Islam and soldiers newly enlisted in military training. In a country whose politicians often convey an “us-versus-them” mentality when talking about Islam, it becomes clear why Beckett’s work is so important. In an email to the Gallery, Beckett wrote that “the work can give viewers insights into their own thoughts, to the assumptions and prejudices they carry inside.” By featuring the perspectives of people on both sides of, as well as in-between, the supposed line between Islam and America, Beckett shines a humanizing light on a subject that is so often misunderstood.

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ClaireBeckett.com

Another contemporary artist we chose to feature is Mickalene Thomas, a New York-based mixed-media artist whose work also includes collage, photo, video, sculpture, and installations. Thomas’ work often celebrates black women and their femininity, surrounding the faces and figures in her art with bold colors, patterns, glitter, and rhinestones to draw in the gaze and emphasize their beauty. Inspired by art history and popular culture, Thomas’ work alludes to sources ranging from 19th-century French paintings to 1970s Blaxploitation films. Thomas wrote that “beauty has always been an element of discussion for black women, whether or not we were the ones having the conversation.” With her art, Thomas clarifies that she has taken back the conversation, and is guiding it in a new direction.

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MickaleneThomas.com

In researching #5WomenArtists, our team was not specifically looking for revolutionaries. We chose our artists because of their place in history and the significance and skill of their work. However, we wound up with 5 artists that choose to use their respective mediums to communicate political messages close to their souls. Maybe this is because the act of women creating art is inherently political in one way or another. Maybe this is because we, as young artists and art-lovers ourselves, are drawn to work that stirs us, inspires us, and makes us think. I have learned so much through this project, and will forever be grateful to the 5 amazing artists for teaching me about their movements and causes. I have learned a lot about myself through them. I hope our research can help others learn to appreciate women who have made significant contributions to art, regardless of whether they were “well-behaved.”

Mae Hunt ’21

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Travel Blog – Visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art!

Honolulu Museum of Art

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Last winter break, on a trip back to my home in Hawaii, I was eager to re-enter the Museum I had visited many times while I had grown up on the Island. However, this visit was different, as I was armed  with the new technical perspectives I had gained through my work at the Gund Gallery and Art History Class.

As I traveled throughout the museum, many new things stuck out at me. In the past, I had rushed past them, eager to get to my favorite art pieces. My new knowledge expanded my sight to include much more of the Museum: mainly its colored walls,  global connections, and a related artist.

Colored Walls

By helping to set up the Gund Gallery’s most recent exhibition, Urban Cadence, last spring, I learned much about the behind-the-scenes work that went into the setup of each museum exhibit. A large group of associates rearranged art pieces, painted, and re-decorated walls in a arduous and well-thought-out process.

As the Gund Gallery exhibit was being set up, I bore witness to the repainting of the large, white walls. I had to pay much more attention to the paint of the gallery than I had before, making sure its clear surface wasn’t blemished as we set up the new exhibit. I realized that the blank walls provided a clean aspect to a museum, while also uniting its several collections.

Therefore, I was surprised to realize the diversity of the palette used to decorate the walls of the Honolulu Museum of Art. The choice to utilize color in the exhibitions echoed the diversity of the collections, which range from eastern antiquity to western modernism. Instead of being totally cohesive, the museum chooses to accentuate each collection with a color that complements it.

 

Crivelli, Carlo, Apostle, Tempera and gilding on panel. Italian, 1430, Honolulu Museum of Art.

The powerful gold walls  in the room for the European Renaissance were chosen to “make the artwork pop.” The paint also serves well to match the lustrous gold gilding in some of the 15th century Italian pieces.

 

Neel, Alice, Marisol, Oil on Canvas. American, 1981. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

The portraiture room of the Honolulu Museum of Art is well-known for its characteristically bright orange walls. The color was chosen to complement the skin colors of the portraits subjects, giving the room and its pieces a healthy glow.  

 

Beyeren, Abraham van, A Fruit Still Life, Dutch, 1655. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

“Dramatic purple walls” fill the European room, surrounding the influential western region in regality. The colors for this and the American room were chosen collectively by curator of European and American art Theresa Papanikolas and graphic designer Jared Stone.

Global Connections

Through my work at the Gund Gallery I have been introduced to the African cities Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, which are highlighted in the rhythmic pictures of the Gallery’s featured photographers. As my experience with the collection grew, so did my fascination for the ability of art to transcend language and distance in order to provide a glimpse into different cultures. The Honolulu Museum of Art contains artwork from many different cultures, including European, Chinese, Buddhist, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Cycladic, Egyptian, and Hawaiian. When I visited over break, I was more open and excited than ever to learn about each different society.

 

Joanna Lau Sullivan Chinese Courtyard and Mediterranean Courtyard, Honolulu Museum of Art

The Museum contains two outdoor courtyards, one mediterranean and one Chinese, in order to mimic the two sections of art collections. The Asian and European collections lie on opposite ends of the gallery, adjacent to where the countries are located on either side of the Hawaiian Islands. The courtyards were made to take advantage of natural light and Hawaii’s warm climate.

Cycladic and Egyptian Art

 

Male Figure, Egypt, 2350-2170 B.C., Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6. Limestone with traces of polychrome. Honolulu Museum of Art.  Female Figure, Cycladic, 2500-2400 B.C. Marble with traces of polychrome.Honolulu Museum of Art.

I was surprised and excited to see these very old Egyptian and Cycladic pieces, having just learned about the same culture’s art in my Art History Survey 1 class at Kenyon. Ancient Egyptian figures are positioned awkwardly so that all limbs are shown; it was believed that this ensured that the soul of the person would make it into the afterlife in one piece. Cycladic figures originate from the Cycladic islands in Greece, and although their purpose is unclear, their large quantity guarantees them a place in museums all around the world.

Hawaiian Art

 

Imin, Kanyaku, Kanyaku Imin. Hammered and welded copper. American, 1985, Honolulu Museum of Art.                     Wires,Theodore, The Lei Maker. American, 1901, Honolulu Museum of Art.

In the Hawaiian section, I was drawn to the subtle colors hidden in the copper of Kanyaku Imin. Although incomprehensible from afar, the figures laid over the stone resemble ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs. Furthermore, like many of the tourists that pour into Hawaii, I found myself attracted to the idealized, traditional Hawaiian culture depicted in the deep red tones and flowers in  The Lei Maker.

Buddhist Art

 

Guanyin, China, 960-1126. Wood with traces of pigment. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                                                          Kurukulla, Tibet, 18th-19th century. Gilt bronze. Honolulu Museum of Art.

These two figures, though largely contrasting in size (from larger than life to the size of a palm), both project very powerful messages. The image on the left depicts Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and is a great example of the “royal ease” style, which became prominent in China during the 10th and 11th century. The image in the right depicts Kurukulla, a goddess of power and protector of buddhism.

Korean Art

 

Dragon, Korea, Jodeon Dynasty, 1392-1910. Panell; ink and color on paper. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                               Dragon Jar, Korea, Joseon Dynasty, 18th century. Porcelain with cobalt blue. Honolulu Museum of Art.

These dragons are from the Jodeon dynasty of Korea, which was both the longest imperial dynasty and the most Confucian, emphasizing order and peace. In Korea, the dragon is a highly revered, auspicious, and mythological creature.

Chinese Art

 

Woman’s Jacket, China, Qing Dynasty, 1875-1908. Silk and gilt paper strips, satin weave, embroidery. Honolulu Museum of Art.     Xi, Dai. River Scene, China, Qing Dynasty 1856.  Fan; ink and color on paper. Honolulu Museum of Art.

The Qing Dynasty has semi-nomadic origins, which linger in the shapes of their robes. Manchu elite in this period were great connoisseurs of art, creating a great leap in technical accomplishment.

Japanese Art

 

Tesseki, Fujimoto, Old Pine. Japan, Edo period, 185. Hanging scroll; ink on satin. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                      Eisen, Keisai, The Suzuri Spring at Torii Pass near Yabuhara (from Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road). Edo period, 1835. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper.  Honolulu Museum of Art.

The pine tree, a symbol of fortitude, when paired with a rock and a mushroom, were often given to celebrate a recipient’s 60th birthday. The Honolulu Museum of Art has the third largest collection of Japanese woodblocks in the United States. It was in the peaceful Edo period that the term Ukiyo-e, or “the floating world,” surrounded the more whimsical, lighthearted scenes in woodblock prints.

European Art

 

Paul, Gauguin, Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach, French, 1891/1894. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.                               Monet, Claude, Water Lilies, French, 1917/1919. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

Western artists, like Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet, also have a place at the museum. Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach was completed when Gauguin, seeking relief from industrialized Europe, left France for Tahiti. Water Lilies belongs to the last of three series of Monet’s work, each seeking to capture the fleeting light dancing across his lily pond.

Related Artist – Robert Rauschenberg

Having already witnessed Rauschenberg’s unorthodox art style at the Gund Gallery, I was somewhat prepared when I beheld Trophy V at the Honolulu Museum.

 

Robert Rauschenberg, Grape Levee (from Rookery Mounds), American, 1979. 3-color lithograph. 41 x 31 inches, Gund Gallery Collection.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Robert Rauschenberg, Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), American, 1962. Combine painting on canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

Last semester my Drawing 1 class took a trip out of Horvitz hall to the Gund Gallery, where we spent about an hour picking apart each of the photo collages in Rauschenberg’s “Rookery Mounds” series. While at first glance I hadn’t thought much of the seemingly arbitrary photo selections, a closer look illuminated the subtle themes and well-thought out composition, which provided layers of meaning for each piece.

When I approached Trophy V, instead of giving it a quick glance of acknowledgement and continuing on like many others in the group, I stayed back with  a few people and really tried to pick apart the piece. We began to notice the industrial, urban aspects of the piece much more, along with the graffiti-esque slashes of contrasting light and dark colors. The different tones seemed to resemble the layers of paint one could see on an old building. The small map of America could narrow the piece’s focus to the urbanization of the rapidly growing country. The traffic light lacked a yellow center, but the yellow paper provided enough contrast with its white background to draw me closer. On the paper was the only depiction of natural imagery: a shell draw thinly with pencil, styled with the spiral of the golden ratio. The paper appeared to be covering something else, perhaps hinting that there was a more natural, earthen underlayer beneath the many layers of grey tones and industrial symbols on the piece.

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Flower from the Joanna Lau Sullivan Chinese Courtyard

Leaving the Honolulu Museum of Art after break, I felt much like the bouncing kid I had been when I toured the museum for the first time. Working at the gallery has made me realize how much different choices made in Museums, as well as in art, influence a visitors/viewers experience. By highlighting these choices, being an associate makes deeper, more exciting analysis’s possible.

Miah Tapper ’21