In the gap between “Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art,” which closed last month, and a major sculpture exhibition that opens in a few days, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art is packed with – as usual – fascinating little exhibits.
In its upstairs photography galleries and a few smaller spaces that showcase exhibits on a smaller scale, the Carter features three exhibitions of works by contemporary artists.
You can’t help but notice that all artists are women.
But perhaps most remarkable is how mundane it is.
The three most recent exhibitions currently on view are: “Commanding Space: Women Sculptors of Texas,” a one-piece exhibition of works by five living artists; “In Her Image: Photographs by Rania Matar,” featuring works from four photographic series by the Lebanese-American artist; and “Ellen Carey: Dings, Pulls, and Shadows,” featuring colorful abstract works that explore the photographic process itself.
March is Women’s History Month, and opinion pages have recently been buzzing with claims that 2018 is (yet another) “Year of the Woman.”
Still, curators at The Carter say the confluence of these three shows wasn’t intentional — it’s just the way things happened.
They are always mindful of diversity. “We make a concerted effort to think holistically about the exhibition schedule each year and balance it in a way that allows us to tell ever more diverse and varied stories of American art,” says Brett Abbott, Director of Collections. and exhibits.
The historical canon is almost entirely male but, he says, “we have the opportunity, particularly through our living artists program, to shape the future of the canon in more representative ways.”
Carter’s rich photographic lineup, in particular, is one place where this has been evident.
“We are constantly dedicated to women artists,” says Joy Kim, assistant curator of photography. “Our photography program has long been in the contemporary realm.”
Kim is the curator of “In Her Image: Photographs by Rania Matar”, the largest of the three exhibitions. Arranged in two galleries, four series of photographs explore the development of female identity.
The first shows us portraits of preteen girls who live in the United States and the Middle East (Matar, born in Beirut, is a naturalized American citizen). “She shows what’s universal about growing up and being a woman in both countries,” Kim says. The girls are seen striking sophisticated camera-ready poses, suggesting that “received images of women were already affecting the way these girls present themselves to the world”.
Another series depicts slightly older girls in their bedrooms. Whether in Massachusetts, Beirut or a Palestinian refugee camp, each girl has created a distinctive private space. “That’s where they make their identity,” Kim says.
A third series features side-by-side portraits of preteen girls alongside their teenage selves.
Finally, a more dramatic passage of time is explored in a striking series of dual mother-daughter portraits. The artist, says Kim, was “interested in these two very different times in a woman’s life – the mother coming out of her childbearing years when her daughter is just beginning to grow into an adult. She places these two different moments side by side in the same portrait. In some cases, there is such a resemblance between mother and daughter that it looks like two versions of the same person. “It’s the passage of time.”
“Ellen Carey: Dings, Pulls, and Shadows” is a completely different kind of show. The artist, an experimental photographer in Hartford, Connecticut, challenges you to reflect on the nature of photography itself.
The small exhibition includes what the artist calls “sweaters,” made with a large-format Polaroid camera, in which she manipulates the instant camera development process to create entirely abstract images — just large blobs of color.
“When you think of photography, you think of a transparent image, evidence of something that was in front of the camera. What Ellen is trying to do is dismantle that notion,” Kim says. “She thinks to color, to light, to what happens in the darkroom.”
For the “Dings & Shadows” series, Carey didn’t even use a camera, just photographic paper exposed to light.
“Its interest is to show us that a photograph is just as much a made image as a painting or a drawing – it is no less a kind of interpretation of reality than these other media.”
The third exhibition, “Commanding Space: Women Sculptors of Texas,” features a small number of pieces in the small Texas Gallery, a space dedicated to regional artists. In this case, the exhibition of sculptures by Celia Eberle, Kana Harada, Sharon Kopriva, Sherry Owens and Linda Ridgway was timed to complement the larger sculpture exhibition, “A New American Sculpture, 1914-1945: Lachaise, Laurent , Nadelman and Zorach”, which will open at the museum on February 17.
Both exhibitions were curated by Shirley Reece-Hughes, Curator of Painting and Sculpture at The Carter. She became interested in how the group of contemporary female sculptors, in their various ways, work in different modes and design space differently from those earlier masters, who used heavy traditional materials. “It was interesting to start from this dominant sense of mass and weight and look at what women in the region were working in,” she says.
Owens, for example, uses crepe myrtle boughs she collects from her Dallas neighborhood, as in “Dust Devil,” an ethereal piece that evokes a West Texas dust devil. Dallasite Harada, of Japanese origin, uses sheets of moss, a crafting material you might buy at a big box store, in pieces such as “Foojin – God of the Wind”, a hanging tornado shape from the ceiling. Reece-Hughes remembers people who installed it commenting on how lightweight it was. “It looks like metal, but it weighs ounces, not pounds.”
She was drawn to how all of these artists were using never-before-seen materials to make their statements. The degree of craftsmanship – Harada cut each piece of foam by hand, with scissors – and the allusions to nature and a sense of space common to all Texans are also shared ties.
This adds up to a distinctive way of, well, commanding space.
“I think it’s great that these female artists are recognized at the museum,” says Kim. “Maybe there is something in the air. It just reflects an openness right now in artistic creation and in artistic communities.
In her image: photographs by Rania Matar
Until June 17
Ellen Carey: Strokes, Draws and Shadows
Until July 22
Commanding Space: The Women Sculptors of Texas
Until November 18
Amon Carter Museum of American Art
3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth