The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth presents Women Painting Women, a thematic exhibition of forty-six women artists who choose women as subject matter in their works. This exhibition is organized by Chief Curator Andrea Karnes and will be on view at the Modern May 15 through September 25, 2022.
This presentation includes approximately sixty evocative portraits that span the late 1960s to the present. International in scope, Women Painting Women recognizes female perspectives that have been underrepresented in the history of postwar figuration. Painting is the focus of the exhibition as traditionally it has been a privileged medium for portraiture, particularly for white male artists. The featured artists range from early trailblazers like Alice Neel and Emma Amos to emerging artists such as Jordan Casteel, Jenna Gribbon, and Apolonia Sokol. All place women—their bodies, gestures, and individuality—at the forefront.
Four themes that trend in the works of these artists are explored: The Body, Nature Personified, Color as Portrait, and Selfhood.
THE BODY examines the spectrum from unidealized to fantasized nudes. This thematic group encompasses work by Alice Neel, Jenny Saville, Sylvia Sleigh, Mickalene Thomas, and Lisa Yuskavage, among others. The women painted by Neel convey a sense of individuality and realness—ironically through the artist’s generalizing of flesh and form. Pregnant Nude, 1967, for example, shows her characteristic tendency to streamline the body and break the rules of painting by contouring the figure in an unnatural blue outline. Like a traditional nude, she is recumbent with a passive gaze, yet her realness is too profound to be sexy. In The Turkish Bath, 1973, Sleigh subverts the traditional odalisque image by replacing women with male nudes, calling into question the values historically used to paint women while also pointing to the lack of erotic male nudes in works of art throughout time. Thomas’s monumental painting A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007, expresses a lineage to Sleigh’s The Turkish Bath by recasting the traditional (male-painted) odalisque to make a critical statement about the representation, objectification, and sexualization of Black women. In her work, Thomas quotes Edouard Manet’s Olympia, 1863, but moves the Black woman to the forefront to highlight the historical omission of Black women, both as subjects and creators.
NATURE PERSONIFIED includes artists who look to the mythology of woman as it relates to mother earth figures, priestesses, and goddesses, as well as to the metaphysical powers associated with being female. Eunice Golden, Joan Semmel, Luchita Hurtado, Susan Rothenberg, Maria Berrío, Hayv Kahraman, and Tracey Emin are among the artists discussed. Golden, Semmel, and Hurtado are each represented with a work from 1971, and each comes into figuration through abstraction; with similar concerns about reclaiming space for women, and ties to the women’s movement, they depict the body in intimate poses using first-person perspective. Rothenberg and Emin depict figures that are primal and elemental in form, color, and composition. Berrío and Kahraman use a symbolic visual language to convey issues regarding the postcolonial (Berrío) and non-Western imperialism (Kahraman).
COLOR AS PORTRAIT accounts for the exaggerated or dramatic use of color and form to convey content about female identity, including race, gender, and archetypes. Emma Amos, Faith Ringgold, Joan Brown, Amy Sherald, and Nicola Tyson are among the artists who explore color to create a mood. For example, Amos painted the subjects at hand in life with flattened patterns, bold colors, and a pop sensibility beginning in her early development as an artist coming of age in the 1960s. Her Three Figures, 1966, literally reflects the idea of women of many colors, and the addition of greens, reds, blues, and whites reinforces this notion. Color here suggests exoticism and otherness within a scene comingling Black and white American middle-class life—a subject rarely broached by a woman artist in the mid-twentieth century.
SELFHOOD examines the subtleties of gesture, posture, and setting to portray the energy or presence of the sitter’s psychological and sometimes physical human state. SELFHOOD is represented in the works of Nicole Eisenman, Maria Lassnig, Elizabeth Peyton, Danielle Mckinney, Marlene Dumas, Jordan Casteel, and more. For instance, Dumas’s Jen, 2005, depicts a woman lying prone, mouth slightly open and eyes closed; her abject condition explores female objectification. Casteel’s Pretty in Pink, 2019, depicts a contemporary young Black woman seen on a subway, looking at her phone—beautiful and bedazzled. Representing women of color in daily life brings a visibility to a complicated white male art history.
Chief Curator Andrea Karnes comments, “The pivotal narrative in Women Painting Women is how these artists use the conventional portrait of a woman as a catalyst to tell another story outside of male interpretations of the female body. They conceive new ways to activate and elaborate on the portrayal of women. Replete with complexities, realness, abjection, beauty, complications, everydayness, pain, and pleasure, the portraits in this exhibition connect to all kinds of women, and they make way for women artists to share the stage with their male counterparts in defining the female figure.”
Image: Emma Amos, Three Figures, 1966, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 in. John and Susan Horseman Collection. Courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery, New York. Copyright Emma Amos.