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In 'Women Painting Women,' the female gaze is front and center

By Susan Stamberg
Hope Gangloff, Queen Jane Approximately, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 108 inches. Collection of Alturas Foundation, San Antonio, Texas © Hope Gangloff. (Adam Reich / Courtesy of the Artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC)

For decades, women artists have been fighting to get their work on museum gallery walls. Recently, the battle is being won: Various exhibitions across the country feature female's work. Once visitors notice the change, they see that art can be different when women wield the paintbrushes. Sometimes. And sometimes not.

Nothing much different there, except all the blue, and the beauty of the model and the painting. It's called Queen Jane Approximatelylike the Bob Dylan song.

Gangloff doesn't seem to be painting blue-as-in-sad. This blue is meditative, relaxed, reflective. The woman, former model and fashion designer Jane Mayle, is a friend — as are all of Gangloff's models, says Andrea Karnes, curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth exhibition Women Painting Women.

The acrobatic Iraqi women below may be friends (although how long would you shoulder responsibility for a friend this way?). To me, they look more like relatives, maybe sisters, with their beautiful black hair, brows and red, red lips.

Kahraman paints this woman often. Contorted and multiplied as she is here, I see incredible strength. Those powerful legs, the steady gaze and humor — I laughed at first glimpse. But curator Karnes says it's a salute to "countless displaced women, past and present." Women who have suffered "disfigurement, violence, sexual abuse," standing on the shoulders of their predecessors.

So, how do women paint women? It's less about seeing them differently from men, than showing them different. For centuries, artists' male gaze saw women as objects of desire, idealized and voluptuous, with luscious white skin and dimpled knees. Women artists in this exhibition, like Alice Neel and Emma Amos and others, show women as differently beautiful: pregnant, overweight, sometimes despondent. As we are, wrapped in our truths.

Arpita Singh, My Mother, 1993. Oil on canvas, 54 x 72 inches. From the Collection of Sharad and Mahinder Tak © Arpita Singh (/ Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Talwar Gallery / Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Talwar Gallery)

Arpita Singh's mother has seen and lived through so much conflict: the bloody partition of India and Pakistan, with its religious divides, political disputes, loss and deaths. At the top of the canvas, like a frame, Arpita has written the words, "Between what I say and what I keep silent." The mother clutches her hands. Her sari is white — in India, the color of mourning. Near her, a row of dead bodies. Surrounded by chaos, the mother is ... what? Silent? Steady? Firm? Stalwart? What do you see in her face, reader?

Luchita Hurtado, Untitled, 1970. Oil on canvas, 30 x 50 inches. © The Estate of Luchita Hurtado (Jeff McLane / Courtesy The Estate of Luchita Hurtado and Hauser & Wirth / Courtesy The Estate of Luchita Hurtado and Hauser & Wirth)

Like so many of the 46 female artists in this exhibition, Luchita Hurtado had no money to hire models. But she had the wealth of her talent, and the will to make art. Again, like so many of these artists, Hurtado was driven to make art. She had responsibilities: a husband and children. At night, after dinner, when they'd gone to bed, curator Andrea Karnes says, "she would go into the closet and paint." Driven, "even when there was no market for her work." Hurtado said for her painting was a constant — "a need, like brushing your teeth." And when she lacked money for models, her own body became her favorite model. Hurtado didn't idealize herself. But she viewed herself from a perspective no man (or woman, for that matter) could share. Looking down toward the geometric Navajo rug, she painted her breast, her belly, hand, leg with clarity and tremendous confidence.

Do women paint themselves and one another differently? "Women artists look beyond the ideal beauty — the archetype" Andrea Karnes declares. In doing so, they create a portfolio of new archetypes.


Art Where You're At is an informal series showcasing online offerings at museums you may not be able to visit.

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Dive Deeper:
Takeaway spoons, solitary confinement and a nuclear camera: 10 must-see shows at London Gallery Weekend
Galleries across London will show contemporary art from across the world this weekend – for free. Here are our top…
After 2-year delay, Philip Guston art exhibit explores his Jewish identity
“Philip Guston Now,” which in its Boston iteration consists of 73 paintings and 27 drawings, was first slated to open…
From gum trees to cities to sweeping deserts: how 125 years of the Wynne Prize traces Australia's shifting relationship to our landscape
It is fair to say that Richard Wynne, who died in 1895, would not recognise many recent entries in the…
At the Venice Biennale, Art Begins to Leave Identity Politics Behind
The much-anticipated, Covid-delayed global showcase sees artists firmly moving away from figuration and toward a new end: the message.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Art Institute showcases Cezanne in museum’s first exhibit of Post-Impressionist icon in 70 years
The show, titled simply “Paul Cezanne,” will run through Sept. 5, with 80 paintings, 37 watercolors and drawings, four watercolor…
George Grosz: museum dedicated to city’s master chronicler opens in Berlin
Artist is best known for satirical sketches depicting Berlin street life during Weimar Republic era
Get all your news in one place