‘Women’s Work’ exhibition in Lyndhurst tackles themes of craftsmanship and tradition
A Groundbreaking New Exhibition of Historic and Contemporary Works by Female Artists Fills the Neo-Gothic Lyndhurst Manor and gallery in Tarrytown, New York, this summer. Women’s work includes over 125 works of art in a variety of media by American women from diverse backgrounds using artistic traditions that date back centuries. The exhibition, on view from May 26 to September 26, 2022, is housed in the grand 19th century interiors of Lyndhurst.
Tracing the continued influence of the 18th and 19th century tradition of domestic craftsmanship in the practice of contemporary female artists, the exhibition explores how this embrace of female domesticity as an expression of gender-specific artistic identity prevailed as a practice for female artists from the 1970s and 1980s to the present day.
The exhibit was designed by Lyndhurst Director Howard Zar and is co-curated by Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections at Historic New England with Consulting Curator Rebecca R. Hart, the former curator of Polly and Mark Addison of Modern and Contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum.
“In Women’s work we place works of art from different centuries in conversation side by side in the domestic setting for which the historical works were originally designed,” says Zar. “By showing influences across time, whether specific or subtle, the exhibition offers viewers the opportunity to question their own attitudes towards women’s art and invites them to contemplate the distinctions that art critics have established between “craft” and “fine arts” based on materials, genre or practice, which served to diminish the work of women artists.
Women’s Work is presented in conjunction with Historic New England, which has provided 18th and 19th century art to display alongside contemporary works.
“Historic New England is thrilled to be a part of this exhibit,” said Nancy Carlisle. “The juxtaposition of women’s historical contributions with contemporary female artists helps highlight the role women have played in the arts for centuries.”
A fully illustrated catalog with essays by leading scholars and art historians, as well as a symposium, online lectures and special guided tours accompany the exhibition.
Prior to the 21st century, women learned and had to master a wide variety of arts, home decorating, sewing and crafts, collectively referred to as “women’s work”, at a time when women were not allowed to practice. occupations outside the home. These crafts could be done both as a hobby and as a lucrative home-based business. Women passed this craft tradition down through the generations, but because this artistic tradition was practiced in the home by women, it was generally considered inferior to the artistic traditions of painting and sculpture practiced by men, as their career.
As women began to emerge and be recognized as contemporary artists in the 1960s and 1970s (as opposed to the generation of the 1940s and 1950s who often had to subjugate their careers to that of their artist husbands), this new generation of women artists often found themselves engaged in deep explorations of gender identity. They often reject the formal training they received from male artists and make the radical choice to incorporate artistic traditions and techniques known to their grandmothers. This use of so-called craft traditions by contemporary women artists has also inadvertently led to women artists being seen by critics as inferior and less worthy of display and their work less valued by curators and collectors.
As pioneering artist Harmony Hammond states in her Artist Statement of the late 1960s and 1970s, “Paintings were shaped, not stretched, draped, woven, flocked, sewn, bejeweled, and eyeleted. Slowly, the painting was subjected to the force of gravity, released from the rectangle and the wall, relaxed, collapsed and reconfigured. Feminism brought gendered content to this way of working.
The influence of historical traditions on contemporary artists becomes more apparent through the design of the exhibition, which places historical precedents alongside contemporary works, often through the rooms in Lyndhurst Manor for which the historical works were originally destinies.
For example, a 19th century domed flower display will be juxtaposed with a domed glass flower display created by Kiki Smith, both placed on a central table in the Lyndhurst drawing room, the type of room for which such lavish decorations were originally designed. in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Lyndhurst’s dining room has been decorated with examples of 19th century painted plates by Emily Cole, daughter of Hudson River painter Thomas Cole and poet and artist Celia Thaxter displayed alongside similar works by Judy Chicago and Cindy Sherman. Antique quilts are featured with quilts by Faith Ringgold, Dindga McCannon and Jane Kaufman. Vintage lingerie embroidered with rap lyrics by Zoe Buckman and a nightgown embroidered by Maira Kalman are on display along with similar embroidered vintage pieces that once belonged to the women owners of Lyndhurst and are displayed on the Louis Vuitton ‘personals’ trunk owned by Anna Gould , Duchess of Talleyrand, Lyndhurst’s last owner.
The adoption of these techniques covers a surprisingly wide range. Kara Walker’s works using the medium of cut-out black paper silhouettes and Elaine Reichek’s use of early American samplers are visually indistinguishable from historical precedents, but with a completely different interpretative intent. Liza Lou’s adoption of beadwork to create modern household objects and explore domesticity utilizes a medium historically practiced by Native American and European women, yet appears visually distinct from historical precedents. Jenny Holzer’s use of verbal platitudes as art is part of a long tradition but modernizes the medium of samplers, pointy pillows and electronic LED watercolor fracturing.
The exhibit is broadly representative, including pioneers and 20th-century artists who have become household names, mid- and late-career artists who have worked for years with varying levels of public recognition, as well as artists younger. While the exhibit focuses almost exclusively on American artists, attendees include various races and religions.
The exhibit opens to the public on May 26, 2022 and runs through September 26, 2022. Lyndhurst is located along the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. The grounds at Lyndhurst are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. All visitors must adhere to current CDC and New York State guidelines regarding Covid-19 in effect at the time of visit. for more information and itineraries, see www.lyndhurst.org