Honor Fraser Gallery is pleased to present the gallery’s first exhibition of paintings by pioneer Feminist artist Miriam Schapiro. Presented in conjunction with exhibitions of videos by Jeremy Blake and paintings by Mel Davis, a reception will be held at the gallery on November 4, 2017 from 4-7pm.
While living in California during the years 1967 through 1975, Miriam Schapiro embarked on a groundbreaking series of paintings made with the aid of computer imaging. The exhibition is organized with the assistance of Eric Firestone Gallery and the Estate of Miriam Schapiro, and will feature eight works made between 1967 and 1971. The exhibition marks the first time these works will be seen on the west coast since their making.
Born in Toronto, Canada in 1923, Schapiro moved with her family to Brooklyn, New York during the Great Depression. Encouraged by her mother to be an artist, Schapiro took art classes at the Museum of Modern Art before attending the State University of Iowa, where she received a Bachelor of Arts (1945), Master of Arts (1946), and Master of Fine Arts (1949). While in Iowa, she met and married the painter Paul Brach, with whom she moved back to New York in 1951. The couple immersed themselves in and were embraced by the community of artists and gallerists in New York City. Schapiro’s work in the still-reigning abstract expressionist vein was exhibited regularly, most notably at the Tanager and Stable galleries as well as André Emmerich Gallery, where she was represented from 1958 to 1976.
By the 1960s, Schapiro was using collage as a way to experiment with color, shape, and space. Composed of geometric, hard-edged shapes, large works like Borrega Take and Byzantium, both from 1967, possess a flatness akin to the small paper collages she assembled with shapes cut from colored paper as studies for paintings. That year, Schapiro had moved with Brach to San Diego, California, where he was invited to head the fledgling art program at the University of California. While teaching painting at the university, Schapiro met physicist David Nabilof with whom she began to collaborate on computer-aided preliminary sketches for her increasingly hard-edged paintings. Schapiro was able to use the computer to plot every point in her simple geometric drawings and collages in digital space and then manipulate the compositions virtually before ever making a mark on canvas. The process offered infinite variations on her visual concepts, but perhaps more significantly, the use of the computer allowed her to see space in a new way.
The twin influences of collage and digital imaging (which, it is important to note, was barely known at the time) created a productive tension between flatness and depth that is constantly at work in Shapiro’s paintings from this period and beyond. While works such as the aforementioned Borrega Take and Byzantium, along with Canyon (1967) and Normal Heights (1969), are frontally oriented arrangements of geometric forms that favor vertical stacking, paintings like Thunderbird (1970) and Computer Series (1969) offer transparent architectonic shapes floating in color fields that upend the need for orientation along a prescribed axis.
These modes come together in paintings such as Keyhole (1971), in which a solid form described in pink, blue, and red planes—an aggregate shape that we might have seen standing upright and filling the canvas in an earlier Schapiro painting—is leaned on its side, drastically foreshortened, and stretched to the edges of the picture plane. Awkwardly contained within the frame, the shape floats in a misty, light blue sky-space that recalls the color fields in paintings like Thunderbird and Computer Series.
Schapiro had moved to Valencia, California in 1969, a move that was necessitated once again by a career opportunity for Brach, who was invited to become the founding dean of the School of Art at California Institute of the Arts. At CalArts, Schapiro met Judy Chicago, and they co-founded the Feminist Art Program there in 1971. Since 1967, Schapiro had been painting variations on the form of an overlapping or interlocking O and X. Big Ox (1967), Side Ox (1968), and Fallen Ox (1969-70) all feature this motif, but each is painted from a different perspective so that we view the image frontally, from the side, and from an extreme angle. The form in Keyhole is a variation on the OX form, a theme that Schapiro explored in the search for a way to paint that would reconcile her identities as “woman” and as “artist.” Like Chicago, Schapiro developed what both artists referred to as “central core” compositions that were intended as a yonic counterpoint to conventionally “masculine” imagery that emerged from the male-dominated art world. Keyhole is a significant moment in the burgeoning conversation around aesthetics and feminism in the first years of the 1970s.
As Schapiro developed her ideas within her paintings, she became one of the foremost figures in the feminist art movement. Her use of “femmage”—a term Schapiro coined to describe collage that addressed the female experience of the world—also made her a prominent voice in Pattern and Decoration. Looking back at Schapiro’s use of computers in the 1960s, her early direct participation in second wave feminism, and her pioneering femmage works, Schapiro was continually ahead of her time.
Miriam Schapiro was born in Toronto, Canada in 1923 and died in Hampton Bays, New York in 2015. She received a Bachelor of Arts (1945), Master of Arts (1946), and Master of Fine Arts (1949) from the State University of Iowa in Iowa City and was the co-founder with Judy Chicago of the Feminist Art Program at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1971. In addition to numerous one-person exhibitions of her work, traveling retrospective exhibitions have been organized by the Vassar College Gallery, Poughkeepsie, NY (1980); Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY (2000); Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Miami, FL (2001); and the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA (2002). Schapiro has been included in thematic exhibitions around the world and co-organized the groundbreaking exhibition Womanhouse in 1972. In March 2018, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York will present Surface/Depth: The Decorative after Miriam Schapiro, a critical assessment of Schapiro’s legacy in contemporary art. Schapiro is the recipient of awards such as the Visual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and honorary doctorates from College of Wooster, Wooster, OH; California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA; Lawrence University, Appleton, WI; Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, MN; Miami University, Oxford, OH; and Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, PA. In 2006, the Miriam Schapiro Archives for Women Artists was established at Rutgers University. Schapiro’s work is in public collections including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Jewish Museum, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.