For most of art’s history, men ruled the form. Little by little, however, women started to enter the art world and prove their equality as artists.
And now, it’s not uncommon to see female artists hosting their own solo shows and adding their own aesthetic styles to the contemporary art world.
With that in mind, USC Fisher Museum’s “A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art” focuses on a diverse group of 16 female artists who bring their experiences with race, gender and culture to their respective media. Curated by Martin Rosenberg, an art history professor at Rutgers University, and J. Susan Isaacs, professor of art history at Towson University, the show breaks up these women’s works into five categories: Complex Geographies, Image and Text, Childhood and Family, The Body and Accessories and The Female Body.
These categories serve as the show’s main curatorial strength. Each category gets its own explanatory text, which includes quotes from the respective artists about their art. These signs help organize the show and touch on important themes to be found in the works. In addition, the quotes help viewers gets a quick sense of artists with whom they might not be familiar with.
The show naturally appeals to a female audience but does more than focus on just female issues — it also highlights the aesthetic contributions of the artists. Men and women alike will find something to appreciate here.
Lalla Essaydi’s works, for example, draw in the viewer with their impressive combination of visuals and writing. A striking photograph of an Asian woman and child in “Converging Territories #23” becomes even more visually engaging when the viewer notices the calligraphy on top of the image. Together, text and photograph create visual and thematic complexity.
In the Childhood and Family section, Judy Gelles’ piece “Self Portrait: She” also utilizes text to communicate an identity. The work features the outline of a woman with various phrases and adjectives such as “complex” and “likes to please others.” The near-transparent body behind the phrases suggests questions of how women’s actual identities get lost in these simple stereotypes.
One of the show’s most interactive pieces is Annet Couwenberg’s “Act Normal and that’s Already Crazy Enough.” The installation consists of seven frilly, pink cushions, each embroidered with one of the words of the title phrase. When the viewer first walks in, he or she walks around the cushions, which are set up in a circle.
Coincidentally, Couwenberg’s piece complements Sonya Clark’s “Curls,” a hanging group of black combs. The two women comment on image and societal behaviors by taking into consideration how a woman looks and how society thinks she should look. Curatorially, the strength of each work informs the other without taking away too much attention from surrounding pieces.
Other pieces also run the gamut of mediums and themes but still fit into a cohesive whole. As Rosenberg explains in the show’s pamphlet, “A Complex Weave” does not attempt to encompass all works by all women artists, nor does it narrow the works to fit one specific theme.
Each work stands on its own. But in the company of one another, the collection creates a true sense of the diversity of the female artist and the many issues she might face.
“A Complex Weave” includes an impressive assortment of pieces that appeal to the variety of aesthetic preferences visitors bring with them. Though the exhibit displays artwork that sometimes focuses on specifically feminine issues, the imaginations of the artists defy any gender classification.
“A Complex Weave” runs until Dec. 1, 2012. The USC Fisher Museum of Art is open Tuesday — Friday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit fisher.usc.edu.