What was the general concept and inspiration behind the exhibition?
The inspiration for this two-part exhibition stems from the sad reality that female artists have been — and continue to be — drastically underrepresented in exhibitions and collections in museums worldwide, including our own. In keeping with the Museum’s long tradition of featuring and collecting art by women, however, it is important to keep highlighting art by women and to increase the numbers of exhibitions like these as showcases for female artists.
It is a two-part exhibit? Please explain. When will the second part be on display and is there a thematic difference?
It is a two-part exhibition, one focused on art of the 1980s and one on art of the 1990s. The two installations will be on display concurrently in adjacent galleries, which should make for a nice juxtaposition between the two decades and what the artists we have selected were working on over the course of twenty years. The 1980s installation will run a few weeks longer, to the end of August, as we will be installing another show in the gallery housing the 1990s portion at the start of August.
How many artists and how many works will be on display?
We will be exhibiting the work of nearly fifty female artists from our permanent collection, with a few of the artists represented by several works.
Who are some of the artists featured?
We have a great mix of familiar and less familiar names in the exhibition. Among the best known are Judy Chicago, Lorna Simpson, Miriam Schapiro, Faith Ringgold, and Alice Neel. The wonderful part about a show like this, which surveys a wide swath of artwork from these two decades, is the chance for visitors to see the work of artists they may already associate with the period but also to discover new artists of whom they may not have heard before.
Are there any that particularly stand out to you? Why?
I have so many favorites! It is nearly impossible to choose. In selecting objects for these two exhibitions, though, we went through every work in our collection by a female artist that was made in either the 1980s or 1990s. Paring them down to a list of fewer than fifty was no easy task, but we really wanted to select those that stood out for some reason or another. We also wanted to show a variety of styles and media. I am a big fan of Alice Neel, so we are featuring two of her works in the exhibition. One of the pieces by Neel (Portrait of the Artist Edward Avedesian, 1981) has never been on display for the public before, as it has remained unframed since the time of its acquisition in 2004. We finally framed it — and a few other pieces that have stayed unframed in a drawer for years — and can exhibit it now and into the future. Seeing that work by Neel in a frame and exhibitable is the highlight of putting the show together so far. I have been trying for years to include it in an exhibition!
What do you hope viewers take away from the exhibit?
I hope more than anything else that viewers will get a good glimpse at how much of an asset female artists have been to art history and to the art world. Male artists have dominated museum shows and collections for as long as there have been museums, and we hope that Polk Museum visitors will come to realize that “women’s” art is un-definable in any all-encompassing way. We can, should, and do show female artists regularly alongside male artists without having to distinguish or take note of one work’s apparent “femininity” from another’s “masculinity.” Stylistically, “women’s” artwork is not by nature any different from “men’s” art, but many female artists do explore themes that importantly echo their unique experiences. And giving female artists showcases of their own is very worthwhile simply for the reason that the works are indeed made by women, even if the artwork makes no obvious nods to its artist’s sex or gender.
The information about it online said that it “highlights the important contributions and strides female artists made in the art worlds of the 1980s and 1990s.” Can you further explain examples of these contributions and why these two decades were important for female artists?
Any decade when we can focus on the contributions of women artists is important. Any strides women have made in any era in the art world have been notable, when we look at what they were up against. These two decades — the 80s and the 90s, in particular — are especially important for several reasons, in addition to their being relatively recent. Foremost among those reasons: the 80s and 90s come post-women’s liberation, when female artists have greater ability to express themselves more freely and unapologetically, and the two decades come at a time when art was becoming more and more of a commodity with the establishment of a real modern art market with high values and name recognition placed upon the work of male artists. That these works by women were collected by museums like ours speaks volumes in itself.
Flashback Female: Women Artists in the 1980s & 1990s
From the Permanent Collection Part I
Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College
800 E Palmetto St, Lakeland, FL 33801
Perkins Gallery and Gallery II
Exhibition from June 1 – August 3