San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibit celebrates women artists and abstract art
Texas has a little-known treasure trove of not only abstract art, but of abstract art created by women. The works have been under-represented in galleries throughout the Lone Star State, but they’re finally getting their due.
The San Antonio Museum of Art is showcasing the exhibition Texas Women: A New History of Abstract Art, now through Sept. 6. It’s the first large-scale exhibition to focus on women abstract artists living and working in Texas. The exhibit both expands the narrative of American abstraction and celebrates Texas as a vital art scene where women’s unique artistic visions continue to thrive.
Texas Women brings together 17 artists and 95 works in various media, painting, sculpture, drawing, and installation. The work can be broadly categorized by the artist’s motivating ideas and processes — from the organic, gestural, and improvisational to the structural, systemic, and schematic.
There are also connecting themes, such as the sensed or felt landscape; presence of the body; seriation and repetition; and the intersection of analog and digital worlds.
“While the artists’ approaches differ and the number of years in which they have been creating art might vary — from over four decades to less than one — their works reflect an ongoing and rigorous commitment to their artistic vision…,” said Suzanne Weaver, the museum’s Brown Foundation Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Those visions include “pushing their ideas, materials, and processes; and to creating new experiences for their audiences that stimulate reflections about art and the times in which we are living.”
Meet the artists
The artists included in the show are: Sara Cardona (b. 1971, Mexico City), Pat Colville (b. 1931), Sharon Engelstein (b. 1965), Dana Frankfort (b. 1971), Linnea Glatt (b. 1949), Dorothy Hood (1918–2000), Terrell James (b. 1955), Dorothy Antoinette “Toni” LaSelle (1901–2002), Annette Lawrence (b.1965), Catherine Lee (b. 1950), Constance Lowe (b. 1951), Marcelyn McNeil (b.1965), Susie Rosmarin (b. 1950), Margo Sawyer (b. 1958), Lorraine Tady (b. 1967), Liz Trosper (b.1983), and Liz Ward (b. 1960).
Lana Meador, Assistant Curator at SAMA and co-curator of the Texas Women exhibit, said some of the earlier abstract art from women capture abstractions and nature. She gives the example of Georgia O’Keeffe’s abstract watercolors of the Texas landscape, created when she taught art in the Panhandle between 1912 and 1918.
“But in the mid-century, with artists such as Toni LaSelle and Dorothy Hood, there was a major shift,” she notes. “LaSelle’s poetic explorations of light-filled forms and movement along a flat plane and Hood’s monumental, sweeping color fields that evoke the vastness of outer space or the psyche set the stage for subsequent generations of women artists in Texas to pursue the language of abstraction as a meaningful mode of art-making for our times.”
Dorothy Antoinette “Toni” LaSelle (1901–2002) and Dorothy Hood (1918–2000) are two of the earliest artists included in the show. Both are notable for how they brought a range of educational and life experiences into their work.
A Conversation with Annette Lawrence
Among the more recent artists in the exhibit is Annette Lawrence, who gains her creative inspiration from what’s typically thought of as left-brain thinking. SAMA hosted an online event with Lawrence on Tuesday, which invited people to tune in as she spoke about her work with Meador.
Meador started the conversation with a powerful quote from Lawrence: “It became my goal to always assess what’s being counted, who’s counted and how they are counted. My work is very much about recording and taking this data and making a record of memories or passage of time.”
Lawrence said she became interested in counting when she noticed the omission of African-American’s contributions in American history. Her work transforms raw data into drawings, objects, and installations. She gleans information from body cycles, to ancestor portraits, music lessons, unsolicited mail, and journal keeping. And from those seemingly humdrum items, she creates complex abstract works.
Her series of works in the Texas Women exhibit was inspired by hours of phone conversations with a friend over a six-month period.
“I used my itemized phone bill to see the details of days and times spent on the phone,” she said. “This led to charts, which led to circle grids, and finally to the indigo circle grids, which are inverted versions of the others.”
The result is circular works in bold, indigo acrylic paint on linen. “Indigo is one of my favorite colors — it has a lot of gravity,” she added. “Those indigo pieces remind me of celestial maps.”
Meador noted the same. “It’s almost like you’re looking at celestial bodies in the night sky…You’re thinking about the macrocosm but also inward at the microcosm of this personal conversation at the same time. That’s really beautiful.”
Relationships beyond the art
What’s almost as interesting as the artwork on the display in Texas Women is how the paths of several of the artists are interwoven. Many of the artists in Texas Women have enriching relationships as teachers, mentors, and close friends. For example, James was a student of Hood’s at the Museum School associated with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
“This committed group of women artists has created a rich environment in which all artists can feel free to experiment, innovate, and thrive,” Suzanne Weaver, The Brown Foundation Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and co-curator of the exhibition. “In turn, they’ve helped ensure that Texas is one of the most important artistic centers in the country.”
The carefully curated show celebrates the array of talents and styles of these abstract artists.
“No matter the media, materials, or processes each artist uses, she brings inventiveness, risk-taking, and experimentation to her practice,” Weaver said. “Over careers of many decades, each has challenged approaches to abstraction — organic and gestural or inorganic and geometric — to make work that is continually fresh.”
Catch Texas Women: A New History of Abstract Art before Sept. 6, at the San Antonio Museum of Art. If you can’t make it in person, explore the work online here.
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.