Mothers of Invention:                     
The Post that Started the Series

Armory Week, 2017
Originally published March 12, 2017

ADAA: Zilla Sánchez (born 1926), Topologia de le serie Azul (Topology of the Blue series), 2015, acrylic on stretched canvas; at Galerie Lelong. New York City

I skipped Miami this year, so I spent more time than usual at the fairs during Armory Week in New York City. I can't say there were "trends" in that mashup of art and commerce, but two important aspects stood out. One was the ever-interesting use of unusual materials in the making of art; the other, and the subject of this post, is the presence of women artists in a larger and more visible way. Many women were being shown posthumously—you know: die, get famous—but many others have had the satisfaction of success in their own lifetimes. I would like to see this latter development become a trend.

Armory: Yayoi Kusama (born 1929), Guidepost to the New World, 2016; public installation via Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Armory: Jeffrey Deitch's booth, The Florine Stettheimer Collapsed Time Salon

Deitch gave Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944) pride of place in the fabulously over-the-top booth he named in her honor. In the early decades of the 20th century Stettheimer, with her two sisters, became salonieres in New York City, hosting the work of modernists and showing her own as well

Below: Stettheimer's Asbury Park South, 1920, oil on canvas

Armory: Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), Ariadne, 1992, oil on canvas; at Hackett/Mill Gallery, San Francisco

Frankenthaler has her own post in this Mothers of Invention series

Detail below

ADAA: Louise Nevelson (1900-1988), Sky Chapel, 1960, black wood assemblage; at Mary Anne Martin Fine Art, New York City

Nevelson has her own post in this Mothers of Invention series

Detail below

Above and below at Armory: Mira Schendel (1919-1988), Sem titulo (Untitled), 1982, tempera and gold on board; at Cecilia Torres Fine Art, New York City

Born in Switzerland, Schendel was living in Italy when Fascism came to power. She emigrated to Brazil and made her career there, becoming one of the most significant Latin American artists of the 20th Century. 

Armory: Carol Rama (1918-2015), Spazio anche piu che tempo (Space even more than time), 1971, inner tube collage and gouache on coated paperboard; at Repetto Gallery, London 

A self-taught artist, Rama has been described as fearless. Though she worked with assemblage using unusual materials, like rubber inner tubes, she was never affiliated with Arte Povera. Much of her oeuvre (unlike what you see here) portrayed frank sexuality and was censored by the Fascists. I pulled the image above from the internet because the glass made photographing the work impossible, however a detail from the Armory installation is below (reflections and all)

ADAA: Stella Snead (1910-2006), at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City

Above: Deadlock, 1948-49, oil on Masonite, 13 x 18 inches

Below: Eclipse of the Moon, 1942, oil on Masonite, 18 x 14 inches

ADAA: Addie Herter (1920-2009), Untitled collages; 1953, top, and 1954; also at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

ADAA: Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), Untitled (Criticized), 1924, watercolor and gouache on paper; unframed dimensions: app 7 x 7.5 inches; at Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York City

Armory: Alma Thomas (1891-1978), Apollo 12 Splash Down, 1970, acrylic and graphite on canvas; at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City

Thomas has her own post in this Mothers of Invention series

ADAA: Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle (1901-2002), at Inman Gallery, Houston

Foreground: Composition 10; in distance: Suspension; both 1948, oil on canvas

If you follow this blog, you know I love geometric abstraction and follow it closely. Yet the work of Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle was a revelation to me. "She was not well known outside of Texas," said the gallerist tending the booth. Indeed, this was a refrain I heard elsewhere at the fair, and always with regard to women artists. The good news: with their estates represented by strong ADAA galleries, these artists are becoming known beyond the proverbial small circle of friends. I loved the graphic palette and strong, mid-century compositions of LaSelle's paintings.

What I learned in a brochure about the artist is that although she was a lifelong resident of the Midwest and Texas, she traveled throughout Europe and and studied around the country--in New York City and many summers Provincetown with Hans Hoffman (and that he was admiring of her work), and that she was friends with Myron Stout and his circle in New York City.

Booth views above and below

The two small works in this photo are shown below

Small Doxology II, 1956, oil on canvasboard

Small Doxology III, 1956, oil on canvasboard

ADAA: Evelyn Statsinger (1927-2016), Abstraction with Arrow, 1950, pen, india ink, and crayon on brown paper; at Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago

"She was not known much beyond Chicago," I overheard the gallerist telling a collector. The obituary I found online shows a young woman surrounded by her artwork. Statsinger is remembered as a respected multidisciplinary artist. "At the time of her passing, Statsinger’s presence in Chicago’s art world was as prominent as ever," according to the obit.

One of the things I love about the art fairs is the chance to see the work of an artist who is new to me. Both Statsinger and LaSelle, whose whose paintings precede these, were shown in as much depth as an art fair can offer, which is to say with the installation of an entire booth.

View of the Statsinger installation. Three of the untitled photograms (1948-1952) shown on the far wall are pictured below:

ADAA: Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), Untitled (Single-lobed Five Layer Continuous Form within a Form), 1950s, brass wire, 13 x 20 x 20 inches; at John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco

Not all the Mothers of Invention included in this report are being shown posthumously. Zilia Sánchez and Yayoi Kusama, whose images open this post, are both very much alive and still working at ages 91 and 88 (in 2021, 95 and 92 respectively), as are the artists who are shown here through the end of the post: Michelle Stuart, Lee Bontecou, Betye Saar, Sheila Hicks, Kay WalkingStick, Mary Corse, Brenda Goodman, and Katherine Bradford

ADAA: Michelle Stuart (born 1933) installation at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects, New York City

Michelle Stuart, El Florido, Guatemala II, 1978-79; earth, natural graphite on muslin-backed rag paper.

Detail below

ADAA: Lee Bontecou (born 1931) installation at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills

Closer view of one work on paper, with detail below

Armory: Betye Saar (born 1926), We Was Mostly 'bout Survival, 2017, mixed-media assemblage; at Roberts & Tinton, Los Angeles

Detail below

Saar's assemblages, often made from old domestic implements, contain a narrative that intertwines domestic history, racist stereotypes, and the struggle of African Americans in the modern post-Jim Crow era. 

Armory: Sheila Hicks (born 1934) at Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris and Dallas

Hicks, who studied at Yale with Josef Albers in the Fifties, has long worked with fiber as her primary medium. Long embraced by the "fiber art" community as its own mother of invention, she seems to have become part of a wider art community as the "fiber art" identity has receded. Same splendid work, but a larger audience for it

ADAA: Kay WalkingStick (born 1935) at the June Kelly Gallery, New York City

This beautiful installation offered something of a mini-retrospective of WalkingStick's work: the square abstractions in wax from the 70s and 80s, as well as the more recent metaphorical landscapes in oil. (For the larger retrospective, WalkingStick is the subject of a career exhibition, Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist, which started at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and will travel to about six venues around the country. See the work here 

Kay WalkingStick, Synaptic Blue, 1982, acrylic and wax over double-layered canvas, 56 x 56 inches

Detail below

ADAA: Zilia Sánchez, Topoligia erotica (from the series Las Amazonas (Erotic topology from the Amazons series), 1968, acrylic on stretched canvas; right: Topologia de le serie Azul (Topology of the Blue series) shown in the photo that opens this post; at Galerie Lelong, New York City

Sánchez was born in Havana, lived in Spain, maintained a studio in New York City from 1962 to 1971, and then made her home in San Juan where she continues to live. Like many artists, particularly women artists, Sánchez has had a long and distinguished career unknown to many, particularly in North America. I first saw her work at El Museo del Barrio last year in The Illusive Eye, which I reported on. The piece below was shown there.

Sánchez has her own post in this Mothers of invention series. 

Zilia Sánchez, Topologia (de la serie Amazona), 1967-2006, acrylic on stretched canvas

Armory: Mary Corse (1945), at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles, Untitled (White Inner Band with White Sides, Beveled), 2016

From Wikipedia: "Mary Corse is an American artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. She is a member of the male-dominated Light and Space art movement of the 1960s, although her role has only been fully recognized in recent years." The fine glass beads she mixes into her paint are the same ones that give highway road markings their reflectivity.

Untitled (White Inner Band, Beveled), 2014; both glass microspheres in acrylic on canvas

Detail below

NADA: Brenda Goodman (born 1944); installation at Jeff Bailey Gallery, Hudson, New York

Below: At Odds, 2016, oil on wood

Independent: Katherine Bradford (born 1942), title unavailable; at Canada, New York City

With Corse, Goodman, and Bradford, we're looking at younger Mothers of Invention, women who surfed ahead of the Baby Boomers and who only recently have been receiving the recognition they deserve. There are many of us in that cohort and others of us in the Boomer generation. We came of age with feminism when we unlocked doors that had been closed to women. The New York fairs this year suggest that some of those portals have opened to us from the inside. We are a powerful group, personally and professionally. Show our work. Collect it. Write about it. And, yeah, hear us roar.

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