Polk Museum of Art

Lakeland, FL




Miriam Schapiro: A Retrospective of Paintings 1954 - 1997

December 11, 1999 - March 5, 2000


The Polk Museum of Art will showcase 30 paintings by groundbreaking artist Miriam Schapiro in a major national touring exhibition. The retrospective of Schapiro's vibrant works, spanning more than 40 years, was organized by the Polk Museum of Art and will also travel to an exclusive group of three other nationally accredited museums.

The exhibition features Schapiro's paintings and "femmages" (feminist-oriented collages). A pioneering force in the feminist art movement of the 1970s, Schapiro is an internationally renowned artist. Best known for her large heart- and fan-shaped canvases layered with fabric and paint, she helped launch the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s and 1980s and developed a richly decorative style that has influenced a generation of younger artists. The works in this exhibition span the years 1954 - 1997, chronicling her development from Abstract Expressionism to a more minimal, geometric style and finally to the lush, beautiful patterns and moving lines that have defined her works for the past 25 years.

"This retrospective is one of the most important projects the Museum has embarked upon. The significance of Miriam Schapiro's contribution to the history of art is indisputable," said Daniel E. Stetson, executive director of the Polk Museum of Art. "We are pleased to be the organizer of this national touring exhibition and, through this tour and the publication of the accompanying book, we hope to expand the scholarship and knowledge of her great paintings to a broader national audience."

The exhibition begins chronologically with four large oil on canvas paintings from 1954-1960. Fétes Champétres: Homage to Giorgione, Beast Land and Plenty, Façade, and The Game demonstrate Schapiro's early mastery of the subtlety of colors. Already evident in these artworks is her use of color and pattern to control and delight the viewer's eyes.

Shrine for Two Paint Tubes, Shrine: Homage to M.L. (Mona Lisa), Sixteen Windows, and Ox, dating from 1962-1968, exemplify Schapiro's hardedge period in which she experimented with new ways of organizing her paintings and with the creation of feminist forms. She created her first "femmage" works shortly after she co-founded with Judy Chicago the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971. She began to use feminist imagery and materials to, in a sense, recreate the fabric of women's lives. In works such as She Sweeps with Many Colored Brooms, Souvenirs, and The Architectural Basis, Schapiro incorporated handmade handkerchiefs and other items into the paintings. The Poet (1982) was constructed on a large house-shaped canvas, alluding to the space most associated with women. Schapiro also began using images such as the heart and fan (Murmur of the Heart and Mother Russia) to shape her canvases and expand on her vocabulary of feminine forms. (right: Mother Russia, (fan), 1994, acrylic and mized media on canvas, 82 x 90 inches, Courtesy of Steinbaum Krauss Gallery)

Beginning in the mid·1980s, she began exploring in a more personal way specific moments in the lives of women and the roles they play in the world. Moving Away deals with the maturing of a girl into woman. Incognito examines the pulls between the masculine and feminine worlds experienced by professional women. The Twinning of the Garden of Eden, II suggests that the heavenly origin of marriage might be insufficient to overcome earthly conflicts. (left: Incognito, 1987, acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 80 x 72 inches, Collection of the artist)

During the 1990s Schapiro has studied the importance of her direct or indirect relationships with other women artists. She refers to these artworks as "Collaborations." Frida Kahlo is the centerpiece of Conservatory, Arts and Crafts, and Presentation, 1990. Mother Russia and Russian Matrix are tributes to the revolutionary women artists from early 20th- century Russia (Schapiro's grandparents were Russian immigrants). Yard Sale represents symbolically artists Frida Kahlo, Varvara Stepanova, and Sonia Delaunay. The Stronger Vessel contains blooming flowers representing six historic Russian women artists. For the most recent work in the exhibition, Schapiro returns to her childhood. Father and Daughter (1997) shows her as a little girl, acknowledging for the first time her father's role as an artist in her development. (left: Heartland, 1985, acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 85 x 94 inches, Collection of Orlando Museum of Art, Gift of Women for Special Acquisitions and the Council 101; right: Russian Matrix, 1994, Silkscreen, fabric collage and acrylic an canvas, 60 x 50 inches, Collection of Catherine S. Muther)

Feminist art historian Thalia Gouma-Peterson has served as curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying book, Miriam Schapiro: Shaping the Fragments of Art and Life. This, the only comprehensive book about the paintings of the artist Miriam Schapiro has been published by the Polk Museum of Art and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers. The 160-page book was written by feminist art historian Thalia Gouma-Peterson and includes an insightful foreword by noted scholar Linda Nochlin. Gouma-Peterson's 60,000-word essay traces Schapiro's career, drawing on the artist's writings to convey her reflections about art, art history and the feminist movement. Gouma-Peterson is a professor of art history and museum director at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Nochlin's introduction includes a reprinting of an article she wrote for Arts Magazine in November 1973, during a time when Schapiro was beginning to raise the issue of feminism and art. Nochlin is the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and a pioneering scholar of feminist art history.

Partial funding for this project has been provided by a generous award to the Polk Museum of Art by the Richard Florsheim Art Fund.

After its inaugural showing at the Polk Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel nationally to three other venues (to date). It will first travel to the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio, where it will be shown from March 17, 2000 through June 4, 2000. The exhibition will appear next at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, Minnesota from November 3, 2000 through January 28, 2001. The exhibition tour finishes at the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables, Florida from February 22, 2001 until April 8, 2001.

For more on the artist's work, please see our prior article Miriam Schapiro: Works on Paper, A Thirty Year Retrospective (9/11/99)

Read more about the Polk Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.


rev. 11/22/10

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