CWA Picks: August 2021

The August “Picks” from the Committee on Women in the Arts respond to the danger and uncertainty that characterizes the contemporary moment and explore how gender figures into the possibility of imagining new forms of collectivity.

Malgorzata Markiewicz, Medusa: Sensing-with and thinking-with the world, photo Grzesiek Mart, print on textile 4x3m, 2021

Mona Hatoum
April 16 – September 12, 2021
Institut Valencià d’Art Moderne

Mona Hatoum received the Institut Valencià d’Art Moderne’s Julio González prize in 2020, and this exhibition is a tribute to the influential body of work she has created over the last two decades. Across her installations, sculptures, drawings, and textiles, Hatoum’s investment in materializing spatial concepts as instruments of power asserts itself with a poetic and severe consistency. This spatial refrain emerges from the histories she inherits as an Arab woman, but Hatoum is also committed to showing that oppression can be mapped across the globe. Empty and haunted, ephemeral and permanent, each of Hatoum’s pieces creates an aperture for seeing and sensing the pervasive threat of vulnerability that cannot be cordoned off with neat geographical boundaries.


Double Trouble
July 8 – September 21, 2021
Institute of Contemporary Art of Maine College of Art

The double has often meant trouble for women, as it can encapsulate an assembly-line definition of woman and a Stepford-wife loss of control. This exhibition, however, features the work of five artists who explore the double as a resource for upending habitual definitions of the self without indulging in the fantasy that one can leave historical patterns behind. Creating echoes of bright colors and bold graphic forms, the artwork in Double Trouble is immersed in Pop-like patterns–wallpaper is a recurring motif–as if to watch for the differences that slip free from repetitions.


Malgorzata Markiewicz: Medusa: Sensing-with and thinking-with the world
July 15 – September 30, 2021
Triangle, Riverside, Illinois

Malgorzata Markiewicz’s Medusa makes the production of textiles a form of feminist world-making. Slowly, persistently, intentionally, over seven months of the Covid-19 health emergency, Medusa’s crocheted body emerged, spreading with its fifty-feet long tentacles into the space, first from Markiewicz’s home in Kraków, Poland, and then into her studio. Markiewicz made Medusa with three double-warp fabrics specific to Podlasie, a region in the northeast of Poland. The figure of Medusa stands at the center of this exhibition, masked and regal. Her densely textured form also appears in a film, walking across a meadow and through a forest, and in a series of photographs that stage a liberating journey that moves away from the fear, disgust, and shame traditionally associated with Medusa and toward a new feminist way of sensing-with and thinking-with with the world.


New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century
August 28 – January 30, 2022
Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archives

New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century is a major survey exploring recent feminist practices in contemporary art. Rather than defining feminist art, New Time reveals all that the category can encompass as artists respond to the unfolding of history in the present. Although artworks made since 2000 are the primary focus, the objects and installations on view span several generations, mediums, geographies, and political sensibilities. New affinities emerge—the silhouettes of Kara Walker resonate with the sculpture of Kiki Smith—and convey the heterogeneous, intergenerational, and gender-fluid nature of feminist practices today.


Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter
May 21, 2021 – September 12, 2021
The Jewish Museum, New York

Louise Bourgeois viewed her artistic practice as a form of psychoanalysis. Rather than relegating that claim to a footnote or a biographical aside, this exhibition makes it central. Freud’s Daughter places Bourgeois’s original psychoanalytic writings, which include dream recordings and process notes, in dialogue with 40 works of art. These texts, many of which have not been seen before, become their own form of artmaking. They attest to Bourgeois’s onerous, often lyrical, and profoundly feminist struggle to loosen the Oedipal confines placed around women’s capacities to imagine and materialize different forms of feeling.


Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?
May 7 – November 7, 2021
Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

Wangechi Mutu’s I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? intervenes in the Legion of Honor’s homage to the classical imaginary of Euro-American culture. Many of her gorgeous sculptures portray earthy hybrid beauties who stand for the vulnerable physicality western culture systemically inflicts on people of African descent. Vibrant, damaged, and thoughtful survivors of colonial extraction, Mutu’s figures rhyme with the museum’s canonical objects but also register the pathologized differences Black bodies are made to bear. The Legion of Honor is known for Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker (1904), which dominates its atrium entrance, and in his field of vision, Mutu has placed bronze sculptures of corpses covered with opaque blankets that suggest a crime scene. Except for the hands with polished nails and the feet decorated with red stilettos that stick out from the edges of the blankets, the bodies are not visible. But the feminized excesses—one of the artist’s prominent themes—evoke other possibilities for thinking that Mutu has begun to create through her dialogue with histories of willed silence.


Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy
May 19 – August 29, 2021
Whitechapel Gallery, London

This definitive retrospective of the British-Argentinian artist Eileen Forrester Agar (1899–1991) demonstrates just how much her work absorbed and foresaw the twentieth century’s wide array of aesthetic innovations. Agar was included in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, and her rebellious oeuvre certainly captures its feminist potential, but Angel of Anarchy resists the impulse to identify her work only or primarily through Surrealism. Exhibiting over 150 artworks and newly discovered archival material, Angel of Anarchy captures Agar’s nimble travels through artistic mediums, movements, and hierarchies to better see the bright, undulating landscapes of erotic anarchy she created in their wake.


Pauline Curnier Jardin, Fat to Ashes
April 12 – September 19, 2021
Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin

In 2019, the French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin won the Preis de Nationalgalerie, and the film installation Fat to Ashes lives up to the epic scale that might be associated with such an honor. In the historic halls of the Hamburger Banhof, Jardin has created a large-scale amphitheater with material that looks like pie dough—edible, soft, and supple. Inside the arena is a bright red seating area, and the elevated screen appears amidst draped fabrics of translucent pink. The film interweaves three scenes: the procession of St. Agatha in Sicily, the slaughter of a pig, and the carnival in Cologne. Jardin’s cinematic triptych, with its sensual, tactile visuality, portrays the excess and death swirling around the center of collective existence.


Lynn Hershman Leeson: Twisted
June 30 – October 3, 2021
New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

Twisted is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s first solo exhibition in New York City and tracks her prescient engagement with technology—its sinister and generative impact on corporeal life. The exhibition displays Leeson’s drawings (many of which have never been seen before) and wax sculptures from the 1960s, and together they express her interest in the body’s porous boundaries and detachable parts. Twisted of course includes Roberta Breitmore (1973–1978), the well-known performance series that exemplifies feminist art’s look into the empty heart of identity. A new multi-media installation, Infinity Engine (2014–present), is also part of Twisted. Commissioned by ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Infinity Engine is a simulacrum of a genetics laboratory that replicates its world of science, technology, and self. “Twisted” is a great title for this exhibition: it evokes a sinister sickness, cords, the strands of a DNA molecule, and collaboration. Working with scientists, Leeson revitalizes the historical connection between art and scientific research, but her primary collaborators have always been viewers. She addresses her audience with her accessible message that technology does not have to cancel out the human, but can actually be part of realizing its ethical potential, and creates generous invitations for a participatory response.


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