Auburn museum begins yearlong celebration of women artists with exhibition of trailblazing contemporary sculptors

Published: January 23, 2020
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A new exhibition of contemporary sculpture and mixed media artwork has opened at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, inaugurating a year of museum programming that brings women artists to the forefront.

“Feminist Forms: Contemporary Sculpture from the Permanent Collection,” on view through May 3 in the Noel and Kathryn Wadsworth Gallery, features a spectrum of creative output from renowned mid-20th-century female sculptors Elizabeth Catlett, Dorothy Dehner, Louise Nevelson and Beverly Pepper and provocative sculptural and found object pieces by 21st-century artists including Cristina Córdova and Kyungmin Park.

Coinciding with the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, the museum’s initiative aligns with art institutions nationwide that have dedicated 2020 to promoting exhibitions and events focused on women artists.

“There is a history of women artists being underrepresented in museums and galleries and marginalized in the art world,” said Director and Chief curator Cindi Malinick. “For 2020, we have committed to joining with museums across the country in celebrating art by women. This year the museum will feature touring exhibitions that let patrons experience works by widely acclaimed, phenomenally talented female artists, as well as the new ‘Feminist Forms’ exhibition that demonstrates the compelling diversity of pieces housed in our permanent collection.”

“Feminist Forms” displays a wide variety of approaches to artmaking. The exhibition ranges from welded steel and fired ceramics to aluminum structures and repurposed found objects. Abstract works from mid-20th-century groundbreaking sculptors is accompanied by mixed media creations of newer artists exploring contemporary social and cultural narratives.

“Although all of the artists may share a common attitude or expectation of gender equality in their lives and professions, the variety of means in which they express themselves is deeply individualistic and personal,” said Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions. “While Dehner, Nevelson and Pepper focused more on non-narrative formal matters, many of the younger artists are examining issues of the body, sexuality, maternity and gender.”

The exhibition contains a narrative arc of its own, tracing the progress of intrepid female sculptors of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s who carved out a path in a largely male-dominated 20th-century art landscape. This legacy led the way for future generations of female artists seeking their own individual modes of expression.

“Elizabeth Catlett, Dorothy Dehner, Louise Nevelson and Beverly Pepper were all mid-century trailblazers and came to exemplify the women’s liberation movement of their time,” Harper said. “Not only did they hold their own in a machismo environment, they broke new ground in contemporary art practices.”

The first in a series of 2020 exhibitions that emphasize the work of women artists, “Feminist Forms” will be joined by “From Her Innermost Self: Visionary Art of Southern Women,” opening Feb. 18, and “Weight of Black: Works by Anila Quayyum Agha,” opening March 24.

“Throughout 2020, our curatorial focus will be works by women,” Malinick said. “In the near future, the museum will open two more exhibitions: one featuring visionary art by self-taught Southern female artists in February, followed in March by award-winning mixed media artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s stunning light-based installations.”

“Feminist Forms: Contemporary Sculpture from the Permanent Collection” and all museum exhibitions are free and open to the public. Guests are also encouraged to explore current exhibitions “Vessels and Their Voices: The Legacy of Alabama Pottery,” on view through Feb. 2 in the Bill L. Harbert Gallery and Gallery C, and “Out of the Box: A Juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition,” featuring large-scale installations by artists from around the country, on view through Oct. 4 on the grounds of the museum and Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center. A $5 donation is appreciated. For more information, go to jcsm.auburn.edu.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.