Motherlode: Mind and Matter at MoMA, Part 1

Overview here
Part 2 coming Wednesday, July 21

Entry to the exhibition, with a grid of drawings by Zarina
Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now is at the Museum of Modern Art until August 16.

The wall text, which you can see above, opens with: “This exhibition presents a dozen international artists whose abstract work features idiosyncratic and organic forms, materials that appear to be malleable and pliable, craft-based techniques, and, in many cases, an engagement with gender and sexuality.”

There's no big deal made about the fact that the 12 international artists here happen to be female. And yet, there's a subtext: "alternative abstractions." Alternative to what, exactly? There are grids and constructions, works on paper with a strong sense of the linear, and amassed elements. Perhaps these works are alternatives to painting? Or perhaps they are alternatives to the male "norm," especially because there's a mention of an "engagement with gender and sexuality." I'm going to leave it to another writer to parse the political implications of the title.
Here I want to show you what I saw, and to encourage you to see it for yourself. This is a compelling show, full of art historical material at the same time that it's fresh and engaging.

The view as you enter the gallery: sculptures and work on paper by Alina Szapocznikow; on the back wall, prints and books by Louise Bourgeois
We’re walking counterclockwise around the gallery—the same space in which the Monets were installed until recently—stopping to look more closely at certain works. The rest of my comments will be in the captions as we tour the exhibition.
Alina Azapocznikow (1926-1973), Belly Cushions, 1968, polyurethane
I love these torsos, all fleshy and real-woman. Created in the Sisterhood-is-Powerful era, they are light years away from the hard bodies and tummy tucks that define contemporary ideals of beauty
. Continuing around the gallery, Louise Bourgeois: prints, books and works on paper above; sculpture below .
Louise Bourgeois, Spiral Woman, 1951-52; Figure, 1954; Sleeping Figure, 1950
Below, closer view of Figure.
The view above orients you toward a wall of work on paper by Yayoi Kusama, which you see below
Two works from Kusama's installation wall
Above: Flower, 1953-1963, ink, gouache and pastel on paper
Below: Endless, 1953-84, etching
Kusama's stuffed sculpture, Violet Obsession, 1994--sewn and stuffed fabric over a rowboat and oars--is placed in the center of the gallery. I'll show it to you from various vantage points, which also helps to orient you as we tour the room
Above, a look back to the corner we have just viewed
Below, a view toward the corner we are about to view more closely: work by Rosemarie Trockel and Louise Bourgeois
This is as good a point as any to stop and reflect on the work so far. I am taken with the way elements are amassed--Kusama's protuberances and the ordered installation on her framed prints and drawings; Bourgeois's stacked and spiraled scuptures, and the grid of her cloth book pages, which you'll see in closer view below. (I'll have a separate post about the book next week.) Both Kusama and Bourgeois work with textiles, something Mona Hatoum does as well, in work that you'll see shortly. Indeed, the modernist grid, and the weave of fabric have much in common..Gego, whose work is also coming up, interweaves these elements into three dimensions.
Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled, 1996, series of three etchings
Trockel, as you know, has created machine-knitted works that blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, art and craft, handwork and industrial production
This is from the wall text: "To make this series of prints, Trockel pressed yarn directly onto prepared etchingplatesm creating abstract patterns that resemble things from everyday life: knitting or handwriting, a tiles floor or kitchen towels, and floating balloons or nooses.".
Louise Bourgeois: grid of pages from her cloth book, Ode a l'oublie, 2004, fabric book with lithographs, digital prints, machine- and hand-embroidery, and appliques
I'll have more info and pics in a special post next week, but in relating this work to what we just read about Trockel, Bourgeois mined a lifetime's worth of family fabrics to create this edition.
Swinging around the gallery, with Kusama's rowboat helping us navigate, we come to two sculptures by Louise Nevelson
Above: two Hanging Columns from Dawn's Wedding Feast, 1959, painted wood, a room-size work that has been broken up against her wishes
Below: detail from one of the columns.
To the left of the sculptures, two prints by Nevelson and an installation of framed work by Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum
Right: Untitled (grey hair grid with knots 3), 2002
Left: Untitled (hair grid with knots 3), 2001, human hair with hair spray tied to transparentized paper, with detail below

Another view of Kusama's Violet Obsession along with Nevelson's prints and Hatoum's hair grids, as we swing around to view work by Atsuko Tanaka
Atsuko Tanaka
Above: Untitled, 1956, watercolor and felt-tip pen on paper
I love how this drawing connects visually to the sculpture by Gego that you will see farther along in the post. The curators, Alexandra Schwartz, curatorial assistant, Department of Drawings, and Sarah Suzuki, the assistant curator of Prints and Illustrated Books, have done a brilliant job of connecting the dots--or rather, the lines--between and among the works in this exhibition
Below: For 1954, 2005, portfolio of five etchings
Anna Maria Maiolino
Above: Trajectoria II, 1976, illustrated book with thread and torn-paper additions

Closer view of Black Hole, a torn-paper construction that the artists describes as a "drawing object"
To be honest, I'm not particularly taken with this artist's work, but I do love the curatorial connection made between Black Hole and the Gego sculpture below
Above: Installation of, from left: ink on paper, lithograph, metal sculpture, and two ink-and-pencil on paper drawings
Below: Sphere, 1959, brass and steel, painted
I first saw the work of Gego at El Museo del Barrio some years ago. Born Gertrude Goldschmidt in Germany in 1912, she shortened her name and became a Venezuan citizen, where she lived and worked until her death in 1994. Gego's work is all about the connection and the spaces in between: the net, links and intersections, the relationship between the material and the ephemeral.

Gego: Corner installation with two etchings from the Reticularea series, and the sculpture, Drawing without Paper, 1988, enamel on wood and stainless steel wire
Closer view below, and a detail below that
Above and below: Drawing without Paper
This is the work that shares a lovely visual affinity with Atsuko Tanaka's Untitled watercolor, as well as with the prints by Rosemarie Trockel and, at bottom, Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whitread, prints
I debated including this images because I have no information about them. They were installed outside the gallery proper, and the reflected daylight made them impossible to see let alone photograph. But they are part of the show, and their netlike composition ties them, so to speak, to Gego and Tanaka, as well as to Maiolino and Trockel, so I decided to do so anyway
Go see the show!


kim matthews said...

Drool drool. Is there a catalog? I must have it!

Joanne Mattera said...

No catalog that I know of. It's one of the reasons I did such a long post. And next week I'll have a lot of pics of LB's cloth book-- a real beauty--with a little back story of my visit to the printer of the edition.

Tamar said...

Kusama, Bourgeois, Hatoum--your post has me salivating along with Kim! A visit to the exhibit is on my calendar for later this week.

Nancy Natale said...

I'm going, I'm going. I love how these works all seem to be connected to the textile sensibility. Is that the alternative? Just looking at these makes me long for the studio. Fabulous! What a great idea to orient it all around the purple Kusama.

Susan Buret said...

Thank you the detailed post. Wish i could go ....

annell4 said...

What a beautiful show. You have allowed me to go to the show in my mind's eye, at least. I loved the last two pieces, it is the essence after all, the shimmering, reflecting, silvery such-ness of the work! I go to the pool in the desert, in a hidden canyon, the water reflects the sunny, shimmering, hot day. We rest for a while in the shade. Thank you.

Rayna said...

Joanne, thanks for the tour and comments about this wonderful exhibit. I am happy to see that fiber/textile/cloth as an art medium is finally being taken seriously.

I saw a Gego exhbit several years ago at the Drawing Center downtown (NY) and was so taken with her work, I bought the catalog. It doesn't begin to do justice to her work but it's a reminder. The shadows on the wall are an important part of her sculptural pieces...

Mind and matter, indeed!
I shall have to get there myself - thanks.

Susan said...

Joanne - how great it is to be sitting here in Maine and looking at your wonderful account of this great show - thanks so much for doing what you do....

Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

Oh, how I wish I could get there and see this exhibition in person. Thanks so much, Joanne.

lisa said...

It is a terrific show!! Thanks for the preview.

Unknown said...

Just saw this exhibition; thank you for the visual reminders. It's a great show.

Anonymous said...

Currently I live and Iowa. Posts like this are so important for those of us who live in the "hinterlands". Oh, I just discovered you via Sophie Munns.

Entertainment news said...

Really interesting post. I might have found it difficult to take craft-based art seriously in the past, but this gives me a bit of a new perspective. I rarely see much art made with fiber, textile or cloth at big UK exhibitions like Artes Mundi, so thanks for the showcase of Mind & Matter. Wish I could go.

Haddock said...

Like that Drawing without paper.