Sarah Hermanson Meister ’90, P’21, led the eighth grade on a tour of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction.”Click here to see a gallery of photos.
The exhibition, curated by Meister and two colleagues, runs through August 13, 2017. It puts on display “the stunning achievements of women artists between the end of World War II and the start of the feminist movement.” The exhibition highlights paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles and ceramics, and features female artists such as Alma Woodsey Thomas, Lygia Pape and Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The first piece Meister showed to students was one of Thomas untitled pieces—a colorful, abstract piece of artwork made of sheets of paper. Meister said Thomas started making her own art after she retired from teaching at age 69. She was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
“It was a priority to have Alma Thomas,” Meister said, explaining that some art is given to museums, while others are bought, such as this one. “It’s a real favorite.”
Meister also highlighted a piece by Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife.
“You might not have heard about Krasner, which is what we’re trying to fix with this show,” Meister said. “So often the women who were associated with men who were these abstract expressionist painters were incredibly talented artists, but their careers always lived under a lower radar.”
Another example is Janet Sobel, a woman featured in the exhibition who used the drip painting technique before Pollock became famous for it.
“One of the things that was so striking to us was how difficult it was to be a woman artist during this time and how, especially in this gallery, so many of these women were just less well-known,” Meister said.
In the Reductive Abstraction room of the exhibit, Meister talked about a piece by Eleanore Mikus called “Tablet Number 84,” which is made of synthetic polymer paint on composition-board sections. Meister noted that this artwork was a gift from Louise Nevelson, another artist represented in the exhibition. Since it was often difficult to convince galleries to represent female artists and to have museums buy their work, women made up for it by supporting each other.
Nevelson, a better-known painter, gave the piece to MoMA and it was used in an exhibition, then sat in storage for 50 years. The curators saw a photo of “Tablet Number 84” and at first were not interested in displaying it; it had thick, dirty Plexiglas over it, and the frame was deteriorating. Seeing other Mikus paintings at another exhibition outside of MoMA, however, made the curators take a second look at the Mikus piece in MoMA’s storage in Queens. It took three people to get the piece out of the crusted frame, but once they looked at it with a clear view, the curators thought it was amazing and worthy of inclusion.
The tour ended with treats in the Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Students were also given a sheet of paper with a list of male names on it. Meister explained that the sculpture garden features an audiotape called “Birdcalls,” by Louise Lawler. When Lawler was helping with installations for an exhibit that featured 27 male artists, she came up with the idea of recording herself saying the artists’ names like bird calls. MoMA described the piece as “a sound work in which Lawler sings the names of celebrated artists, from Vito Acconci to Lawrence Weiner, thus offering a playful and astute critique of the name recognition enjoyed by her male contemporaries.”