In June of 2015, Miriam Schapiro, the pioneering feminist artist and founding member of the Pattern and Decoration movement, passed away at the age of ninety-one. Surprisingly, given her status as the elder stateswoman of the feminist art movement, the tremendous impact of her oeuvre on contemporary art has yet to be fully acknowledged or critically assessed. This exhibition seeks to redress this gap in the history of American art through an exploration of Schapiro’s signature femmages, the term she coined to describe her distinctive hybrid of painting and collage inspired by women’s domestic arts and crafts and the feminist critique of the hierarchy of art and craft.
In examining the aesthetic and political objectives of Schapiro’s femmages, this exhibition highlights the pivotal role her work and leadership played in the expansion of the art world to include historically marginalized forms of craft, decoration, and abstract patterning associated with femininity and women’s work. Although she is unheralded as the source, the influence of Schapiro’s subjective approach to forms of decoration can be identified today in an remarkably diverse group of artists who continue to find inspiration in her embrace of artistic practices outside the art historical canon. To highlight this legacy, works by a select group of contemporary artists, including Sanford Biggers, Josh Blackwell, Edie Fake, Jeffrey Gibson, Judy Ledgerwood, Jodie Mack, Sara Rahbar, Ruth Root, and Jasmin Sian, will be exhibited alongside Schapiro’s signature femmages. This juxtaposition of historic and contemporary work brings into critical focus the tremendous role Schapiro’s femmages played in the reframing of craft and decoration, while shining a light on the way artists today, both distinguished and emerging, continue to approach the decorative as a language of abstraction tied to the personal and the political.
As a complement to Schapiro’s work, this exhibition also includes a selection of the artist’s own source material drawn from her estate, such as fabric swatches, embroidery and other historic needlework, and folk art.
Surface/Depth: The Decorative After Miriam Schapiro is curated by Elissa Auther, MAD’s Windgate Research and Collections Curator with the support of Assistant Manager of Curatorial Affairs, Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy.
Leading support for Surface/Depth: The Decorative After Miriam Schapiro is provided by Michele and Marty Cohen. Additional support is generously provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd., The Feminist Institute, Eric Firestone Gallery and The Estate of Miriam Schapiro, Sharon Karmazin, Laura and Lewis Kruger, Anthony Meier Fine Arts, and Marjorie Silverman.
Research for this exhibition was supported by a Craft Research Fund grant from the Center for Craft.