Museum celebrates 200 years of women artists
Long Island has long been a breeding ground for artistic expression, especially where women are concerned. So what better time than March, which is also Women’s History Month, to spotlight the area’s female masters in the new exhibit "Two Centuries of Long Island Women Artists, 1800-2000" on view at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook through Sept. 4.
With paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints and fiber arts by more than 70 women hailing from the East River to the East End, it's an effort to tell a more complete story about art on Long Island. "There are all these underappreciated women artists who've always been here, working right alongside the male artists," said Greenlawn's Nina Sangimino, assistant director of Questroyal Fine Art, who co-curated the exhibition with the Long Island Museum's Joshua Ruff and Jonathan Olly,
The opening text panel quotes Abstract Expressionist, Grace Hartigan, who struggled to break beyond the male hierarchy of mid-20th century art. "If you’re an exceptionally gifted woman, the door is open," she said, adding, "What women are fighting for is the right to be as mediocre as men."
GAINING EQUAL FOOTING
It's the old story of having to work twice as hard to get an equal footing. Hartigan certainly was exceptionally gifted. As the only woman included in a groundbreaking Museum of Modern Art show of abstract American art, she was profiled in Newsweek and Life Magazine. In the 1950s, hers was a household name, yet for years before that, she exhibited as "George" Hartigan, just to break through. You'll see her work and learn more about her in the show, along with other famous Long Island women from history, like Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, and contemporary art stars like Audrey Flack, Howardena Pindell, Jennifer Bartlett and April Gornik.
The exhibition is also a chance to spotlight lesser known female artists. Olly found an old photographic portrait of a woman in the museum's collection. On the back was the name of the photographer, Mary Brundage. That sent him hunting. "In 1890," he discovered, "she decided to open a photography studio in Patchogue, her hometown, and she ran it for about 10 years." She treated her photographs as art, exhibiting them locally, and they were reviewed in the newspapers of the time. Mary Brundage Swezey's (she changed her name when she married) became one of the first women in the region to own an art photography studio, and Olly cites her as having an impact that lasted generations.
SEW MUCH TO SEE
Artworks Long Island women created not with brush and canvas, but with needle and thread, are also prominently displayed. There's a quilt made by 30 different women and presented as a gift to Rev. William H. Simonson of Port Jefferson in 1859. Sangimino noted several samplers and a mourning embroidery that's particularly sophisticated. "The drama of that piece, the way the figures are hunched over and the willows are weeping with them, it's layered with symbolism," she said, "and just as sophisticated as any painting of its time."
Between the layout of the works and curatorial texts, a sense emerges of events and lifestyles over two centuries on Long Island and the ways they're reflected in art. Visitors learn how the establishment of William Merritt Chase's Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art in 1891 changed opportunities for women while establishing the East End as an artistic center.
"The land it sat on," Olly noted, "was donated by a woman."
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney Museum, lived on Long Island, as did gallerists Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons, champions of some of America's most renowned artists. They're featured as well. A basket dating to about 1860 and a 1999 painting by contemporary Shinnecock/Hassanamisco-Nipmuc artist Denise Silva-Dennis seem to allude to a history that goes beyond the 200 years covered in the show and artists that go beyond Abstract Expressionists.
"We're trying to give a richer portrait of the island and the art created here," said Olly. Sangimino added, "Women have always been here. They've always been talented, determined, and working, and they have not received the recognition. We're hoping to help shed light on these important and talented people."
"Two Centuries of Long Island Women Artists, 1800-2000"
WHEN | WHERE Through Sept. 4, 12-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, The Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook
INFO $10, $7 seniors, $5 students, free age 5 and younger; 631-751-0066, longislandmuseum.org
A 'TIMELESS' EXHIBIT
Today's women artists take over the walls of Westbury Arts for an all female artists' exhibition that runs through March 26.
In "Tiempo Eterno – Timeless," 25 works by 13 women have an international flavor, but a universal theme — issues women have faced and still do. There's a poetry reading in Spanish and English and a woman-only workshop on dress and body images. But it's the varied expressions of women's history and daily lives, from domesticity to emotions, environmentalism and emancipation that pack the walls with power.
WHEN | WHERE Through March 26, 2-4 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Westbury Arts, 255 Schenck Ave.
INFO Free; 516-400-2787, westburyarts.org