At the beginning of Women’s History Month the National Museum of Women in the Arts asked an intriguing question when they created this hashtag:
It was a call to action with a simple challenge: Name 5 women artists. Can you name them off the top of your head? Sure that may be easy, but if you walk the galleries of your favorite museum and attempt to identify five, this could be more difficult. Of the works shown in U.S. contemporary art museums and galleries, only 5% are by women; it is no surprise that the struggle to name 5 is all too real. One Downtown L.A. gallery is on a mission to change that.
On Sunday March 13, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will open it’s sprawling 100,000 sq foot complex in a converted flour mill in L.A.’s Arts District. The inagural exhibition, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016”, is a historical review of abstract sculpture created by women who have pioneered innovative processes, forms and materials in their artistic process. The work selected in this ambitious undertaking will not only activate the new gallery space but will also offer a large scale survey of art that demonstrates the unique innovations these women contributed to abstract sculpture. This is by no means a comprehensive study, nor is it intended to be. The exhibition avoids the temptation to be overtly self referential, instead it focuses on process, material and space. There are 4 unique gallery spaces in the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel complex that are each dedicated to artists of a specific era who are not defined by a school or movement but by their individuality and innovation in their solo practice.
When I walked into the South Gallery, I was immediately enraptured by a large scale Ruth Asawa sculpture. The hand crocheted, continuous wire form hung from the 2nd level’s sky lit atrium and extended to the mezzanine’s concrete floor that contain flashes of patinated ceramic tiles which harken back to the South Gallery roots as the employee bank of the flour mill. The sculpture’s presence holds court over a cluster of 11 additional Asawa wire forms and an impressive assembly of Louis Bourgeois “Personage” wood carvings that form a circle in the center of the gallery.
The North Gallery is bifurcated in two spaces that showcase works created in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Yayoi Kusama’s sidewinding “Snake” undulates on the floor next to a pair of Lynda Benglis sculptures that occupy space on the gallery wall and floor. Similarly, Senga Nenguidi’s nylon stretched, “R.S.V.P. Reverie-0” commands the viewers gaze away from the gallery walls downward.
As one moves to the gallery’s East corridor, the viewer’s gaze is directed skyward where exhibition space is raw, experimental and befitting of the artists who best harmonized the space with their work.
Phyllida Barlow, who was recently commissioned by the British Council to represent Great Britain at the 2017 Venice Biennale, challenges viewers to not only engage in her work but in the space that contains it. In “GIG” colorful pom poms are strung up on a vividly painted wooden “pick up stick” structure that soars to the vaulted ceiling. The piece envelops the space and the viewer in saturated color. Meanwhile, in the breezeway between the East and North Gallery, Shinique Smith’s “Forgiving Strands” beautifully adorn the exposed brick in the rough hewn walkway with a colorful string of fabric bundles that resemble long strands of thrown Mardi Gras beads.
Revolution in the Making was curated in an 18 month partnership between Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, PHD at the University of California Santa Barbara. One of the challenges in curating this show was that it was difficult to narrow the selection of artists down to 34. A very different challenge from naming #5womenartists. After this show you will not have a bit of difficulty with that hashtag.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel opens Sunday afternoon between 2:00- 6:00.