The exhibition of women painting women is revealing

It shouldn’t be revolutionary to see women painting women in 2022, and yet it still is.

The challenge and strength of “Women of Now: Dialogues of Memory, Place & Identity,” the Green Family Art Foundation’s second exhibition, is its ability to showcase 28 female and gender artists without losing cohesion.

Some works are clear responses to Eurocentric and male-dominated art and social traditions, while others function as private meditations on place, feel and personal memory.

Uniting many paints is an indulgent use of color. Neon greens, marigolds, restless oranges – it reminded me of being caught in the middle of Holi. Or the moment in Anna Badkhen’s book on life in the Afghan countryside, The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Villagewhen the women of Oqa — decked out in colorful fabrics — dance and howl in the desert with absolute abandon, protected behind a partition from the men’s carnivorous eyes.

Anna Weyant’s painting “Maggie” from 2019 is included in the exhibition.(Anna Weyant/Fisher Parrish Gallery)

It is remarkably rare in public spaces to see images of women created for the female gaze.

Watch Cheyenne Julien’s painting in 2018 One day session, I warmed up at first with shame. The female nude, cartoon face, legs erect in a “happy baby” yoga variation, brush whitening her most private parts, anxiously embarrassed me to even have a body that could be positioned like this.

A liberating experience

But as I wandered from one painting to another, the gallery space became liberating, like walking through a posh Korean bathhouse with no towel and no man in sight. Looking at the unwavering assertiveness of the female bodies on display, I felt less reserved, and even a little silly for wanting my sisters in the painting to cover up in the first place.

Although there are refreshing moments of abstraction, as in Rachel Jones Untitled and Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s Beyond the Veil of the Mythical Superwomanthe power of the exhibition resides constantly in the portrait and the figuration.

Sasha Gordon paints the self-portrait Intruder from an unflattering and striking angle. The artist’s hyper-alert face looms in the valley of her chest, neck swallowed by exposed breasts. The strange skin color and grotesque presence of a fly suggests anxiety rather than desire. It is a captivating visualization of the positions of otherness and voyeurism in which whiteness and heteronormativity place queer Asian bodies.

by Ana Benaroya "diamond day" features a muscular and curvy nude female body in a pose...
Ana Benaroya’s “Diamond Day” features a muscular, curvy nude female body in a pose reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s 1935 painting “Large Reclining Nude.”(Kevin Todora)

by Ana Benaroya diamond day is not a portrait, yet we are invited into this intimate domestic space to admire the muscular and voluptuous beauty of a female nude. Homegirl isn’t just slightly toned; she’s screwed. Captain America robbed. Referring to Henri Matisse Large reclining nude (1935) in the posture of the subject, Benaroya confronts the centuries-old art-historical association of female desirability with the supple fragility and absence of queer heroines in the comic/graphic novel tradition.

A threatening man approaches a young woman in Danica Lundy's "Captain."
A menacing man approaches a young woman in Danica Lundy’s “Captain.”(Kevin Todora)

Genre play occurs frequently throughout the exhibition in works like diamond day and Coady Brown The magician’s assistant, but very few men are featured in the paintings. A father and his son here. A lover there. A drag queen at Brea Weinreb Gay Beach Ladiesin which Weinreb reverses the cross gaze by depicting gay, fluid men at a joyous Pride event.

The raptor male in Danica Lundy’s Captain is a different beast. Her towering form steps out of frame towards the young female athlete – and also unsettlingly towards us – reminding viewers that the threat of sexual violence is never far away.

Missed Opportunities

Despite the vibrancy of the exhibition and the appreciated efforts to frame each work for the viewer, the mural text and accompanying political readings sometimes felt thin and inexperienced.

The text of an industrial-surrealist sculpture by Hannah Levy seemed to be missing a key element. The silicone garment stretched over the twisted hips of the zoid-woman form viscerally resembles the goose-fleshed flesh of a bird after its feathers have been plucked out. Perhaps too obvious, this was never mentioned, nor were the pejorative terms “chick” or “bird” often used to refer to women, which could have supplemented a feminist commentary.

In Maud Madsen’s painting two can play, the fact that the two women are lookalikes, wearing the same outfits and wearing the same haircut, does not appear in the wall text and seems like an omission. If this piece is a commentary on play, as the text suggests, it is also a commentary on power. The concentric circles created by the structural seams in the tunnel mimic a target. One woman kneels as she aggressively presses the other’s face to the tunnel floor. The game has become awfully serious.

Curators Clare Milliken and Bailey Summers refer to Madsen’s ongoing exploration of memory repression and shadow as a possible interpretation of the scene. Either way, the lack of levity signals the presence of enmity more than the collaborative play of struggling kids.

From inside the tunnels and below the breasts, from above and below, perspective and identity remain central subjects of investigation throughout the exhibition. In Caroline Absher’s colossal and mostly dichromatic self-portrait Studio, the artist looks at the viewer, who squats or sits under her. She hands us her foot to emphasize our positioning in case we forget. We are in his workshop. Visitors are prevented from evaluating Absher’s work – everything she painted is hidden from view.

Instead, the work we are forced to contemplate is the artist contemplating himself.

The exhibition presents some abstract works, including the 2021 painting by Michaela Yearwood-Dan...
The exhibition features abstract works, including Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s 2021 painting “Beyond the Veil of the Mythical Super Woman” (detail shown).

(Kevin Todora)

His gaze exudes confidence and the assurance of his prowess. The wall text is correct when it says: “Absher, at this point, could understand that in herself she was well entitled to autonomy and had the authority of an exceptional artist.

This extract can be applied to the 28 talented artists represented in “Women of Now”. The Green Family Art Foundation allows these artists to flourish and confidently occupy the space they know they deserve.

Details

“Women of Now: Dialogues of Memory, Place & Identity,” co-curated by Clare Milliken and Bailey Summers, runs through May 15 at the Green Family Art Foundation, 150 Manufacturing St., Suite 214, Dallas. Free entry. Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. greenfamilyartfoundation.org.

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