11 Women Artists Who Should Have Their Own MoMA Retrospectives

For the foreseeable future, art fans venturing to the Museum of Modern Art will be ogling mostly male artists. WHY?

 08/07/2015 11:23 am ET | Updated Aug 11, 2015

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Raise your hand if you went to the Museum of Modern Art this summer.

I’d imagine more than a few New Yorkers are lifting an appendage, confessing to having seen either the museum’s massive flop homage to Björk or the soon-to-close exhibition devoted to 10 years of Yoko Ono’s avant-garde career. Both of these shows were marketed as the art world’s equivalent to blockbuster events, bringing two of the most norm-bending of women artists to the forefront of a major institution.

And then MoMA announced its upcoming roster of shows. Included is a Donald Judd retrospective set for 2017 and a Bruce Nauman retrospective planned for the following year. Besides these two headliners, there will also be “Picasso Sculpture,” a survey of Lebanese artist Walid Raad’s work, a retrospective of Uruguayan painter and sculptor Joaquín Torres-García’s work, and a retrospective of Belgian multi-media artist Marcel Broodthaers’ work. (On view now, if you’re interested: a Gilbert & George show and a group exhibition featured around Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series.”)

Sense a pattern here? For the foreseeable future, art fans venturing to NYC’s palace of modern art will be ogling over male artists, and a lot of them. Of course, this isn’t such a new trend — a look back on the 2014 calendar looks pretty grim, gender parity-wise — but after a summer of Björk and Yoko, it feels a little defeatist to just return to the way things were.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be excited about Walid Raad or Jacob Lawrence or Joaquin Torres-Garcia, who, at the very least, don’t fall into the DWEM (dead white European male) category. It’s just … it’s hard to ignore the numbers, stats that consistently tell us that women artists are underrepresented in major museums and galleries. Critic Jerry Saltz brought up MoMA’s “Women Problem” once, and then he did it again. But still, circumstances don’t seem to be changing fast enough. Today, a better question for MoMA might be: where are all the women artists of color?

So to help speed up the progress train — or, let’s be honest, to simply shine yet another spotlight on the art world’s inability to stop undercutting the potential of 50 percent of the planet’s population, here’s a list of deserving women artists, compiled by a few of the writers and editors of HuffPost Culture, MoMA should take heed to consider.

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Marisol Escobar

Venezuelan sculptor Marisol Escobar, 85, is known for her boxy wooden sculptures, at once eerie and adorable, flattened totem poles that combined Pop art sensibility with the raw impulses of folk art. Marisol’s sculptures, reminiscent of Egyptian tombs and toy soldiers, feature the faces of movie stars, families, political figures, and often, Marisol herself. The artist was a crucial player in the 1960s art scene, though her work slowly faded out of view over the next 50 years. However, recently, the enormous impact of Marisol’s work has been embraced. “Proudly independent, she did not fit into any of the era’s retrospectively sanctified movements,” Sebastian Smee explained in an article for the Boston Globe. “And yet she played a key role in shaping a cultural shift away from mid-century, atomic-age existentialism… toward the visual pizzazz, double-edged irony, and deadpan distillations of Pop.” — Priscilla Frank

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Kara Walker

Kara Walker, 45, has gained critical acclaim for her large-scale silhouettes, which set startling black images against white backgrounds, warping the Southern portrait tradition. Since then she’s translated this aesthetic to the diverse media of animations, shadow puppets and “magic lanterns.” Walker, it seems, can take any ephemeral art form and give it the sharp power of racial and social critique — without ever losing artistic and technical skill. Her most recent work, “A Subtlety,” or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, saw an enormous sphinx made of white sugar installed in the doomed Domino Sugary Factory, surrounded by molasses child figures. Like her previous work, it reshaped visitors’ relationship to old traditions, poking holes in our nostalgia, bringing to light the unsaid beneath our pure white sugar. (Can you imagine this inside MoMA?)

Walker never comforts nor reassures her viewers, so her retrospective would be a refreshing counterpoint to the consumer-friendly curation we’ve seen with MoMA pop culture icons. Watch out though: Sunday museum goers might actually have to think about race. — Colton Valentine

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Ruth Asawa

The late Ruth Asawa, born in 1926, is probably best known for her wire sculptures, the bulbous, basket-like creations that she crocheted to perfection, a technique she learned in Mexico in the 1940s. San Franciscans might know her as the “fountain lady,” due to the simple fact that she helped erect more than a few public fountains in the city over the course of her lifetime. Beyond these three-dimensional offerings, her works on paper feature ghostly black-and-white figures alongside Rorschach-like patterns dubbed “Desert Flower” and “Plane Trees.”

But aside from her art, Asawa’s biography is varied and complex. She was one of seven children born to Japanese parents who made their living as truck farmers in Southern California. She lived through the Great Depression, and she spent several months in an internment camp during World War II after her father was arrested by FBI agents. Eventually, she ended up at Black Mountain College, where she became a student of Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham and Buckminster Fuller. Once she settled in San Francisco, her art flourished, but she continued working in public schools — her first career ambition — and advocating for public art until her death in 2013. This is the kind of woman I’d like to see in a career retrospetive. — Katherine Brooks

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Agnes Martin

The late Agnes Martin has been getting overdue recognition this year, with a big biography out with Thames & Hudson, and a retrospective at the Tate in London. Still, her subtle genius would benefit from an in-person celebration of her work in America — the quiet hues of her abstract paintings translate clumsily into print. Many of her works have found a cozy home at Dia:Beacon where they’re housed aside Sol LeWitt’s repetitive, geometric wall sketches. Like LeWitt, Martin’s work is delicate and benefits from the juxtaposition provided by sturdy, unchanging museum walls. Unlike LeWitt, her paintings are fluid rather than rigid — she pairs pastels inspired by the warm landscape in the American Southwest, where she produced some of her most remarkable work. Before that, she lived in Manhattan, making her steel-and-black toned abstract paintings a nice fit for a New York museum. Hours could be devoted to standing in front of her earth-toned canvases, getting lost in calm, meditative thoughts. — Maddie Crum

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Carol Rama

Carol Rama’s artworks, some of which date back to the 1940s, could scandalize contemporary audiences with her erotic watercolors. In one, a woman masturbates with a snake, in another, a woman looks back at the viewer and sticks out her tongue while taking a shit. In a third, she crouches crotch-length between two men, who each jiggle a deck of penises in her face. Rama’s early graphic works turned more abstract in the ’50s and incorporated multimedia materials and hints of surrealism into the ’60s and ’70s. In the ’80s and ’90s, things got explicit once again. Through it all, Rama, 97, incorporated motifs both personal and punk: syringes, doll eyes, animal claws, bicycle tubes — some images reminiscent of her father who committed suicide when Rama was a child. Above all, Rama created work to heal her own wounds, as well as those of others who’d undergone extreme suffering. She said of her work in an interview with Esso Gallery: “They will be liked greatly by those whom have suffered, and have not known how to save themselves from the suffering.” — Priscilla Frank

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Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu’s work is refreshingly corporeal: it makes the body central to the art and makes you feel the art in your body. She takes that human body and mashes it up with organic and inorganic forms, plant tendrils and machinery alike, all formed from collage materials. The visual effects are stunning, as are the theoretical implications. Mutu, 42, is often associated with Afrofuturism — which envisions alternate sci-fi realities for the African diaspora. More recent works have delved into sculpture (“Suspended Playtime”), animation (“The End of Eating Everything”), and performance art, such as when she distributed chocolate mermaids at a London gallery opening as a commentary on consumption of brown bodies. In 2014, the Brooklyn Museum held a survey of Mutu’s work, and though she’s a Brooklyn resident, we’d love to see her work cross into Manhattan.— Colton Valentine

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois, who died in 2010 at the age of 98, created mammoth spiders both sinister and maternal, suspended sculptures both firmly tethered and vulnerably floated, polished metal figures that seemed alien yet reflected your face in every one of their curves and angles. She was full of these contradictions, but seemed cemented in the messages she wanted to communicate. For me, I’m always attracted to the way she represented anxiety, a condition so many men before her had attached to the female body alone. I think of her “Arches of Hysteria,” contorted bodies that showed the male image in the throws of disquietude. Sure, she was recently on view at the Guggenheim, and she had a mid-career retrospective at MoMA in 1982. From fabric to bronze to marble, Bourgeois took on a dizzying array of media that just begs to fill the halls of the museum again. — Katherine Brooks

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Kiki Smith 

Kiki Smith, 61, is a German-born artist who seems ever at ease with confronting the human body, ailments, gender and race. Her ink and pencil characters appear to be plucked from the same universe, rendered as images that stretch and exaggerate the female (sometimes nude) body in ways both spiritual and fairy tale-esque. A previous survey of her work, “Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005,” originated at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to the Whitney in New York City, the city she lives in today, and a short exhibition of her “Prints, Books & Things” went on view at MoMA in 2003. But why stop there? — Katherine Brooks

Eva Hesse

Don’t ask what it means or what it refers to,” the late Eva Hesse once said about her art. “Don’t ask what the work is. Rather, see what the work does.” The artist fled Nazi Germany at three years old with her family and relocated to New York; just seven years later her mother committed suicide. Hesse is known for her groundbreaking sculptures, toying with the tropes of minimalism, the dominant art movement of the time, but making room for a hint of slop and chaos. Using unconventional materials like wax, latex and cheesecloth, Hesse imbued her deceptively simple forms with a certain bodily quality, hinting at the sag of a breast, the wrinkle of skin, the coiling of intestines.

Because of her unorthodox materials, Hesse’s works are especially difficult to conserve, something the artist herself was aware of. “At this point I feel a little guilty when people want to buy it,” she was quoted as saying in The Nation in 2006. “I think they know but I want to write them a letter and say it’s not going to last. I am not sure what my stand on lasting really is. Part of me feels that it’s superfluous, and if I need to use rubber that is more important. Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” Hesse passed away from a brain tumor at only 34, but in her short lifetime, changed the trajectory of sculpture forever. — Priscilla Frank

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Carolee Schneemann

Carolee Schneemann’s feminist performance pieces are jubilant celebrations of everything taboo — from vaginas to body odor to uncooked chicken. The 75-year-old’s most well-known work, 1974’s “Meat Joy,” features a jubilant orgy slash buffet, with unclothed participants rolling around in paint, uncooked chicken, sausage and fish, quite literally soaking in all of life’s juices. And then there’s “Interior Scroll,” in which Schneemann recited a monologue while pulling it out of her vagina, which also earned its place in the archives of feminist art. In more recent years, the artist’s work has taken a political turn, addressing issues from Palestine in the ’80s to Sept. 11 with equally an incisive eye. Almost all contemporary feminist artists — from Marina Abramovic to Petra Collins to Lady Gaga — owe a nod to Schneemann’s fearlessness. She also basically invented the selfie— Priscilla Frank

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Judy Chicago

 

 

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