At The Armory Show (March 5-8, 2020), we saw a number of women artists exploring feminine identity in a witty and thought-provoking way. They consider how women express identity; not only through the presentation of self but also by the milieu they inhabit, their work, their home, in relation to other women, or even as an online persona. Above all, I was struck by the inherent humor in much of the work.
By the way, women artists had a good year in 2019, according to UBS, with an 8% increase in both gallery representation and share of sales. While women artists are still underrepresented in the art market, there is no reason to believe this trend won’t continue as more women of means are represented within the ranks of art collectors.
A favorite from The Armory Show is Marie Kondo (above) by Christine Wang (American b. 1985). Wang is a San Francisco-based artist who is attuned to popular culture and the role of social media in our lives. Her latest work is her best yet.
Like Wang, Los Angeles-based artist, Kelly Reemtsen (American b. 1967) creates gorgeous images that juxtapose feminine imagery with somewhat menacing symbols of competence in traditionally masculine realms. To me, inherent humor and wink to the past in these paintings are central to their appeal.
Brooklyn-based Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971) had this amazing print, July 1977, in the mix at The Armory Show. Black women are almost always the subject of Thomas’s work about the female sense-of-self. Inspired by her mother and her childhood in the 1970s, Thomas seeks to present a positive vision of female beauty, sexuality, and power. She notes the “being seen” is a powerful form of validation, and she is interested in reimagining the way women have been presented in both art history and popular culture. Thomas is a leading figure in contemporary art and created the first official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008.
France-Lise McGurn (b. 1983 and based Glasgow) presents the female body in a completely different way, creating a subjective sense of intimacy and atmosphere that is fluid and flirtatious. McGurn is inspired by found imagery combining fields of color and line drawing. Her mark-making is spontaneous conveying themes of “sexuality, ecstasy, loss, and consciousness”. In Full disclosure, above, McGurn humorously punctuated her composition with a high-heeled shoe. McGurn has recently had a solo show at Tate Modern.
Caroline Walker (b. 1982, Dunfermline, Scotland) is a London-based artist. Her work should appeal to those who find Edward Hopper’s work compelling. While Hopper expressed a vision that became emblematic of mid-century America, Walker is best known for capturing voyeurist scenes of women at work in 21st century London.
The lithograph above is part of a different body of work called Sunset. Sunset presents scenes of an aging beauty queen in her home in the Hollywood Hills. I adore this body of work in which Walker seems to explore human loneliness and isolation, even in the context of privilege and wealth. So much insight in the woman’s psyche can be inferred by the way Walker places her in vignettes around her daily activities and environment.
Rosa Loy (German, b. 1958), the well-established artist associated with the Leipzig school, had this charming painting at The Armory Show. Loy has focused on the female figure for most of her career, placing her characters in dreamy, enigmatic narratives that evoke the Soviet propaganda of the cold war as well as a traditional fairy tale. To me, the symbolism in Loy’s paintings can be read like Tarot cards. In this quirky painting, we can glean the woman’s identification with her otherworldly task by the visual patterns (red and white dots in the mushroom and her kerchief as well as the jagged grey shapes in her suit of armor and on on the floor under the glass) that unite her with the strange object of her attention. We also see her expression of love and fascination for it, as other women look on from a more familiar setting.