It is so tedious and played-out as to make eyes roll: the myth of the genius male artist, working tirelessly to incise his vision upon a substrate, and by extension, the world. This is a myth propped up by museums, galleries, writers, and collectors. Not only is it an inaccurate reflection of the larger world, it is boring to boot.
Speaking to the 2016 graduating class of the School of Visual Arts, artist Carrie Mae Weems says, “They tell me if you’re a woman or a person of color, you have a little bit of extra work to do.” Extra work, it seems, is the specialty of the six painters whose works are featured in the MOCA Jacksonville summer exhibition Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction.
It is no secret that female artists struggle far more than their male counterparts do in the art world. Statistics and secondary sales records spell this reality out unequivocally.
Yet numbers don’t tell the whole truth.
They don’t tell the truth of hours alone in the studio, of personal sacrifices made, and ultimately, resultantly, the extraordinary work of female artists. In this exhibition, the works made are paintings reacting to and against Clement Greenberg’s baby, Abstract Expressionism.
The title of the show itself utilizes the kind of mythmaking verbiage that Greenberg and his coterie often used in describing their struggles with non-objective painting. But here, in this female-only show, the narrative changes: it is updated, transformed, and takes cues from new materials technology, as well as palettes that are hopeful, brash, and luminous.
According to the support materials for Confronting the Canvas, the show does not “attempt to rewrite history, but instead it identifies and gives prominence to emerging and mid-career women [artists] working in the field of abstraction today.” It goes on to note that this show “is not necessarily a revisionist perspective of the New York School but a report from the front line about the current state of abstraction by women painters living and working in New York today.”
While that information is useful, it also points to an entrenched attitude that implicitly indicates that large, gestural, abstract works are the provenance of men. Or perhaps, the press release merely hedges the bets of presenting an all-female show in a climate like Jacksonville’s, where a nipple can cause hand-wringing and uproar. Either way, that statement, while situating the painters within the art historical cannon also makes clear that discourse around women artists, and women making art can still be quite fraught with anxiety and political overtones.
Article written by Madeleine Peck Wagner