Serving as a last-minute counter to the all male show in it’s lower gallery, the Gallery of Wisconsin Art in West Bend is currently showing Contemporary Abstraction: The Female Perspective, which is on view until April 28. This exhibition hosts 9 Wisconsin women who work largely in a neo-expressionist manner where color dominates the picture plane.
One of the exhibition’s problems is its title. I appreciate GOWA’s nod to equality, but subtitling the show “The Female Perspective” recklessly reinforces stereotypes. The title implies that a few artists speak for or, at least, make work that is representative of all women artists working in contemporary abstraction. This is simply not true. For example, Wisconsin artists Nina Ghanbarzadeh, Michelle Grabner, Rachel Hausmann, Zina Mussmann, Nirmal Raja, and Sarah Willadsen all make work that is very different than what is included in this exhibition.
Further, the show lacks a diversity of artists and work, even though the title seeks to be expansive. All exhibiting artists are in the same general demographic group. And, despite the claim that the exhibition “represents a diverse approach to today’s abstract work,” all of the works are painting and the majority utilize a similar palette, composition, and general techniques. Only painter-sculptor Melissa Dorn Richards breaks away from the abstract expressionism that dominates the show. As a maximal minimalist, she reduces the industrial mophead to her own illustrative idea and then reintroduces the texture of many mop strands.
A somewhat better title would have been Contemporary Abstraction: Female Perspectives. Or, even better, the gallery could present the work of women without othering it into a "woman's" context, separate from men. In this case, Contemporary Abstraction: Color and Texture would have been appropriate.
If the women’s show was going to be reduced to being called “female,” the least the gallery could have done was call the men's exhibition Three Generations of Abstraction: The Male Perspective. But, of course, that would be unnecessary in yet another arena dominated by men.
Image credit: Gallery of Wisconsin Art postcard.