In the new exhibition of women’s sculpture at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles we are given three linking abstraction shows that expand from the 1940s through today. The choice for an all women artist show for the first opening exhibition is a bold one that hopefully keeps us all moving in the right direction for equality of all artists in the future. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, out of 4,000 represented artists in Los Angeles and New York in 2014 only 32% of them are women. This exhibition gathers up the important female artists over the past 80 years and brings to light the incredible potency and beauty these artists and their works have.
I am going to focus on Eva Hesse’s floor piece “Augment” and Michelle Stuart’s “Art Book”as well as the overall themes and tones of the Gallery A&B works and Jackie Winsor’s “Hemp and Wood Piece.”
I believe these two abstract works from the 1960s hold a quiet power in their presences. Stuart’s “Art Book” is comprised of many layered canvas sheets that have been physically hand dyed with the earth to create a blotchy crimson hue. The finished material is bodily and delicate as well as strong in its simplicity. This style of earth works from women from the 1960s carries strong undertones of female presence and power without coming outright and yelling it. Across the gallery space, Hesse’s “Augment Piece” is also made of the same original components of canvas but is then treated with resin and latex and folded delicately on the floor like waves of soft flesh. Eva Hesse’s work rides the line between painting and sculpture which are traditionally men’s artistic modes of working. Her smooth execution and large scale works exude confidence and awe within the viewer still to this day. Both works become bodily monochromes that invite us to get closer and question their complexities further.
Repetition allows us to have an immediacy with the objects origin and for us to imagine the labor and the gravity of each move the artist made. To me, the repetition is a calm and confident build up of the work that is saying so much through very minimal abstract moves. The repeated gesture of adding or building allows us as the viewers to imagine the scope of time and commitment it takes for each piece to be constructed, which allows us to appreciate and wonder about the creative commitment each artwork requires.
These women’s pieces are the product of an unseen performance of transformation. Both pieces required laborious processes to convert them into what was in the gallery, and yet their softness echoes the notion that the whole show is comprised of women artists. I enjoy how the show plays with our ideas of stability and fragility from one material to the next. The show isn’t afraid of the feminine but instead is enhanced by both softness and strength.
Two of the resounding components of the A&B show are scale and repetition. The use of scale allows for the insignificant to become engulfing and intimidating as in Jackie Winsor’s hemp and wood piece. The scale shifts also question the significance of the female vs the male histories of sculpture. Up until the feminist revolution in the 1960s women’s roles in the art world were viewed as more craft based and not as fine art, leaving sculpture to the men. But this wave of 1960’s women’s sculptors used scale as a tool to prove their presence and ability to the fine art world and put female sculptors on the map, from an art historical perspective.
By Megan St. Clair
*photos credited to Hauser Wirth & Schimmel