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Female Forms & Facets at the FWMoA

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


In 1985, the Guerilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminists protesting sexism in the international art world, donned masks and responded to the Museum of Modern Art's "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture." The exhibition included over 169 artists, and only thirteen of them were women…less than 8%.

They later asked, in 1989, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum?" objecting to the fact that only 5% of the artists in the Met's Modern Art wing were women, but 85% of the nudes were female. While feminist art had been active for over a decade before this event, the resulting press and attention the Guerilla Girls generated made feminist concerns more prominent in the art world. While not so aggressive, Fort Wayne Museum of Art Curator of American Art Sarah Aubrey offers an exhibition that asks similar questions to those which arose in the wake of that 1985 act of protestation.

"Female Forms & Facets: Portrayals of Women in Art" is described by Aubrey as an exhibition of questions more than answers, designed to make the viewer think critically about the images, either altering their conception of women and the various related ideas brought up in the exhibition, or a reaffirming them. In Aubrey's thesis she asks, "How do women choose to portray themselves? How do male artists portray them? What are artists saying about women? What issues are these artworks unconsciously bringing forth?" While Aubrey is clearly playing devil's advocate in a number of ways with her curatorial decisions, there tends to be a great deal of herself placed into the exhibition.

Aubrey's passion while discussing the exhibition is clearly evident, but she furthers her authorial voice in this exhibition in some ways more than others. Not only does "Female Forms & Facets" include a large number of her favorite pieces, like James Rosenquist's lithograph, "Gift Wrapped Doll," which Aubrey studied during her undergraduate art history classes, but it also includes a list of words and phrases associated with women, like "Hot Mess" and "Diva," which Aubrey composed and placed near the entrance of the exhibition with vinyl on a prop wall, like a bonus hidden installation. This intimacy with the works comes across throughout the exhibition in many ways. Aubrey shares that "the inclusion of Lorna Simpson's ‘Wigs’; Kiki Smith's ‘Untitled,’ ‘Worm,’ and ‘Little Mountain,’ as well as the 10 Elizabeth Catlett linocuts and one mixed media piece, were all immediate". Perhaps most evident of Aubrey's dedication to this exhibition is that the idea for it began over three years ago.

After all of that percolating in the mind of a young curator, it is no wonder that "Female Forms & Facets" is an incredibly dense and diverse exhibition of over 100 works of art in a variety of media. This diversity includes galleries with pieces like Albrecht Durer's beautiful woodcuts "The Fall" and "Expulsion from Paradise" next to John Sloan, Kiki Smith prints and multiples across from them, and paintings by Larry Rivers.
Another example is the inclusion of a completely abstracted Helen Frankenthaler piece, "London Memos III," which may at first seem like an odd choice for an exhibition about the female form. Because of Aubrey's curatorial thesis and the questions and assumptions that are created from it, what was once a purely abstracted image made by the most popular female involved in second generation abstract expressionism takes on decidedly vaginal qualities. The hyper-feminine context of "Female Forms & Facets,” and the curatorial pastiche within it allows for the cross fertilization of feminine concepts over time, geography, and artistic style. The works in the exhibition actually span more than four centuries with pieces dating as far back as 1510, and as recent as 2005.

Another instance of curatorial finesse in the exhibition are the two Norman Rockwell images that greet the viewer as he or she walks in. While Rockwell is normally seen as the greatest representative of Americana, his inclusion in "Female Forms & Facets" turns his images into an ethnographic exposition of the tight controls placed on women's roles in mid-century America.

Aubrey explains that she takes an organic approach to curation, developing the galleries after making the initial exhibition plan, working through themes, sub-themes, and sight lines as she plan for them and as they develop. This process resulted in the aforementioned "grab bag area of incredible diversity, the "primer" wall near the beginning of the exhibition which succinctly wraps many of the concepts into short and sweet spurts of imagery, and the "social justice corner" near the end of the exhibition which includes images that take more decidedly political stances.

This style of curation fits in perfectly with the FWMoA's new policy of showing more of its wonderful collection, showing newer pieces, favorites, and images which have been with the Museum since its inception in the living room of what was then the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, now the Castle Gallery.

By making "Female Forms & Facets" FWMoA's main summer exhibition, it broadcasts an important and beautiful swath of its collection to thousands of residents who have rarely seen some of these pieces, and pushing our community to engage in a strong discourse about femininity and how we see the roles of women in modern society. Aubrey states, "(I) want my curation to take a back seat to the art while still leading people into dialogue, creating an active three-fold conversation between the viewer, the art, and the artist." This is something that Aubrey attempts with every exhibition she curates, taking her charge very seriously. Staying true to the sentiment of the exhibition when asked how many of the artists included in "Female Forms & Facets" are women, Aubrey emphatically states, "More than 5%!"

Female Forms & Facets: Portrayals of Women in Art"
Fort Wayne Museum of Art
June 4-August 21
For more information, visit www.fwmoa.org
*Note: FWMoA will be closed August 2-August 8

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