Karen Meninno and I co-curated the exhibit FeministFuturist at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery this spring. Now we tell all in a new podcast so let me know what you think!
Sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller (pronounced Mee-ta), 1877-1968, was a longtime Framingham, Mass. resident. The Danforth Museum of Art has newly opened a room devoted to her lifetime of work which includes a reconstruction of the corner in which she sculpted. Fuller worked for many years in a corner of her family’s Framingham attic, in spite of opposition from her husband and in between the demands of three children.
Fuller grew up in Philadelphia, in a family that supported her education and artistic ambitions. As a young woman, she spent three years studying in Paris and met Rodin, who encouraged her.
Fuller’s half figure is on display through May 3rd in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Originally modeled in 1913 for the Emancipation Exposition in New York City, this woman with her somber gaze is part of a group of three life size figures and a tree. The plaster version of this large group, titled “Emancipation Proclamation” was stored in a garage after Fuller’s death. Against all odds, the work survived and was finally restored and cast in bronze in 1999, when the entire monument was dedicated in Harriet Tubman Square in Boston’s South End.
This piece is on loan from Boston’s National Center of Afro-American Artists.
Monir Farmanfarmaian, who passed away last year, was an Iranian sculptor too little known in the United States. She composed her gorgeous Pentagon in 2011 using ancient Persian techniques of mirror mosaic, after first gravitating to this way of working in the 1970s upon visiting the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran.
Said Formanfarmaian of this visit: “The very space seemed on fire, the lamps blazing in hundreds of thousands of reflection … It was a universe unto itself, architecture transformed into performance, all movement and fluid light, all solids fractured and dissolved in brilliance in space, in prayer. I was overwhelmed.”
At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pentagon is hung with its vortex at face height, creating an almost transcendental experience of sparkling and glowing reflections, embodying Sufi notions of the soul’s reflection of divine light. The MFA’s redesigned galleries of Arts of Islamic Cultures, where the piece resides, are a delight and a revelation.
A quiet and riveting work, Mona Hatoum‘s Exodus II from 2002 is a pair of suitcases joined by long strands of human hair. Hatoum’s family fled Palestine in 1948, found refuge in Lebanon, and thirty years later Hatoum was propelled into unexpected exile upon the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. Her work ranges from sculpture to installation to performance, thematically linked by intense emotions that cross countries and political boundaries, documenting lives torn apart.
Hatoum’s piece is a part of the powerful ICA Boston exhibit, When Home Won’t Let You Stay, which is closing soon on January 26th.
Yayoi Kusama‘s ICA Boston exhibit, Love is Calling, is an oddly tranquil environment in which Kusama is heard intoning her poem, “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears.” The small mirrored room contains large tentacle-like fabric sculptures which slowly change color, at different rates and in a seemingly random sequence which becomes soothing rather than disorienting. A friend observes that being inside it is like scuba diving an exotic reef–both mesmerizing and sensorially acute. Kusama’s moving poem, which appears in English translation as wall text, is an ode to leaving all that one loves–a person, an emotion, or the World.
For Dia De Los Muertos, an homage to one who’s gone before: Malvina Hoffman. Her lovely 1913 self-portrait, “Spirit,” is in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh
Born in Brooklyn, Hoffman studied at the Art Students League in New York and is—for better or worse—best known for having sculpted bronze portraits for the Hall of Man in Chicago’s Field Museum. The hall, originally designed to illustrate the “races of man” with life size bronze sculptures of racial “types” was intended in 1929 as an educational display. Hoffman was clear in her intent to honor the dignity and individuality of the models she chose for her most important commission, but the hall’s racist overtones cast a shadow on her career and was dismantled after her death in 1966.
Margaret Cresson French
At Chesterwood, there are few sculptures by Daniel Chester French’s daughter Margaret on display. But the superb modeling and arresting expression of Girl with Curls make it quietly magnetic. The anonymous subject of the life size Girl with Curls must have been a young woman Margaret knew, and was probably carved by the Piccirilli Brothers studio in the Bronx.
In 1921 Margaret married architect William Penn Cresson, and had one child who died in infancy. Whatever her private sorrow, Margaret found her life’s work through sculpture, as her father did.
Were it not for Margaret, we wouldn’t have Chesterwood and its storehouse of sculpture, maquettes, and tools. She worked hard to preserve her father’s legacy in many ways: writing a memoir, serving as tour guide, and ultimately leaving the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. When her father was alive, she was both his model and student, the ultimate muse. In leaving Chesterwood to America, she added immeasurably to our knowledge of neoclassical sculpture.
Margaret French Cresson, August 3 1889 — October 1, 1973
Ethel Cummings, model for Daniel Chester French’s last work, “Andromeda,” was a housemaid in the French household. A humble beauty, Ethel has been immortalized in marble—a story which has some parallels to the original demigoddess. A mortal girl rescued by Perseus and made into a constellation upon her death, Andromeda’s beauty sealed her fate–one fueled by a mother’s vanity, dramatic rescue, and finally, immortality. Though this Andromeda, neoclassically Caucasian, was carved from Georgia white marble by the Piccirilli Brothers workshop in the Bronx, the original Andromeda was an Ethiopian princess. Maquettes for Andromeda (below), French’s last work, are now displayed near the lifesize version at Chesterwood. #GoddessID
Daniel Chester French’s summer home and studio, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Mass. is a more inspiring place now than ever. Many of his studies and maquettes, long stored in the studio basement, are now displayed in a climate-controlled sub-gallery in the Barn visitors’ center. I saw much more than I can write about in one post, but I was struck first by these two maquettes symbolizing Manhattan and Brooklyn, studies for the monumental figures that were formerly on the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan, at left, definitely has attitude and wears a tiny city on her head. Brooklyn, on the other hand, is more relaxed, gazing into the distance, holding a book and seated amidst flowers. Read their saga here! #GoddessID
Argentinian sculptor Nora Valdez is showing drawing and sculpture at the Maynard, Mass. public library now through the end of May. Valdez creates poignant images about immigration, diaspora, and the experience of dislocation and communication.