4 Women Making Art About Women brings together a selection of artists investigating the way in which women are represented and understood in art and Western culture. The exhibition title points to the idea that these works of art are first and foremost self-reflections. Works of art employing actual female icons, re-creations of icons, and re-creations of female stereotypes all point toward the representation of the idea of womanhood.
Rachel Harrison’s Untitled (Marilyn), 2004, is a photograph of an obstructed photograph of Marilyn Monroe. Woman with a Camera (Last Sitting, Bert Stern), 2009, by Anne Collier uses Bert Stern’s famous book on Monroe as its starting point, photographing the book itself marked up by an array of Post- it notes. Photographed in her lifetime, then rephotographed after her death by Harrison and Collier, Monroe’s image is altered and recontextualized. Collier has selected an image of Monroe behind the camera, placing Monroe not only in the role of the subject of the artwork, but as the image maker as well, toying with notions of artistic power and the photographic gaze.
In Karen Kilimnik’s Me as Isabelle Adjani in Ishtar, 1994, the artist alters a photograph of herself to make it look as if she is the iconic actress. In this case, there is an even deeper internalization of celebrity-driven culture on the individual, coupled with the genuine enthusiasm of fandom. As is typical in Kilimnik’s work there is a merge between the self and the celebrity or fictional characters she represents, suggesting that the boundaries between the individual and the culture are blurred. Kilimnik’s drawing I Know Exactly What You Are, 1994, constructs images from several fashion magazines of the early 1990s. The title of this work, appropriated from a magazine as well, ambiguously treads on the identity crises that fashion magazines introduce and uphold in the lives of their mostly young, female audience.
Re-creations of female stereotypes embody notions of self-refection as well as considerations on gender and generalizations. Cindy Sherman’s black and white photograph Secretary, 1978, is an impeccable styling of the artist in the role of a 1950s secretary. Sherman is able to show us how culture sees women while making her own statement about these views.
Untitled, 2003, is a color photograph by Sherman depicting a bronzed, middle-aged woman attempting to make herself beautiful with excessive make-up and self-tanning. Womanhood is revealed as a self- mutilated, misunderstood victim of conformity to contemporary culture’s ideas of beauty.
The final approach in this exhibition stems from religion and embodies the most complex relationship. In Rachel Harrison’s Untitled (Perth Amboy Series), 2001, the artist photographed the window of an ordinary looking house in New Jersey, where it was believed that the face of the Virgin Mary had appeared. The pictures focus on the accumulated fingerprints left by the faithful as they touched the pane of glass. This representation of an idea of a woman, as opposed to an actual woman, is a sympathetic critique. How can anyone live up to the vision of a figure who sits next to God? The impossibility of living up to false images is a misuse of our creativity and ingenuity.
The work in this exhibition, 4 Women Making Art About Women, has prompted my own self-reflection. Within the realm of celebrities, cultural icons, saints and gods, there is certainly room for new representations of women.
Ann Collier (b. 1970)
Referencing film, music and celebrity culture, Anne Collier’s photographs investigate the forms of photography encountered on a daily basis in our media- driven world. She works with existing photographic images, including posters, books, and record sleeves. These immaculate close-up images exude a detached, almost clinical stance, similar to commercial photography, yet they still evoke an emotional and psychological response in the viewer. While never explicitly autobiographical, Collier transmits notions of identity through her chosen subjects. Collier delicately negotiates the realm between the personal and the universal, making widely known images her own. She is represented by Anton Kern Gallery in New York and Corvi Mora in London. Her work has been exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary, UK and the Salina Art Center, Kansas.
Rachel Harrison (b. 1966)
As sculptor, painter, photographer, video maker, and installation artist, Rachel Harrison’s work draws upon a wide range of styles, materials, and influences. Her work is both whimsical and deliberate, combining the figurative and abstract, the everyday and unexpected, and pop cultural and historical references. Harrison’s art encourages the viewer to actively look, engage, and bring their own interpretation and understanding to the pieces. There is a sense of freedom and openness that characterizes her work. Represented by Greene Naftali Gallery in New York, her work has also been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Carnegie International, Pittsburg, PA.
Karen Kilimnik (b. 1955)
Karen Kilimnik emerged in the contemporary art world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. First recognized for her “scatter art” installations, she works in a wide variety of media, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and video. Her work explores the realm of female psychology and identity with both wit and self-reflection. Referencing icons of Hollywood and fashion, Kilimnik’s bold, gestural works embody the thrill and superficial allure of celebrity culture that permeates contemporary society. She captures the desire and intrigue surrounding this glamorous world, while keenly questioning its effect upon one’s own sense of self. Kilimnik is represented by 303 Gallery in New York, and her work has been exhibited at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Cindy Sherman (b. 1954)
Over the past 35 years, Cindy Sherman has developed a remarkable and compelling body of work and established a reputation as one of the most respected photographers of her time. Through the aid of make-up, elaborate props and outfits, Sherman photographs herself in countless guises and roles, both famous and archetypical. Sherman assumes the lives of invented female characters – heroines, Hollywood starlets, and working class women – so naturally and completely, that the viewer encounters a sense of familiarity and instant recognition. As photographer and model, artist and disguised subject, Sherman challenges stereotyped representations of women through a playful blend of idealization, humor, and shock. Represented by Metro Pictures, New York, Sherman’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York as well as the Venice Biennale and Whitney Biennale.