Women’s work is never done: a trio of art books featuring women

One of the many happy results of the publishing industry’s push for greater inclusion: more art books showcasing not just women’s art, but women’s capabilities as well.

Three recent highlights feature female subjects of all shapes and hues from around the world, doing the things that women have historically done, and also the things that men have historically done. In a few words, these books say a lot. They would all make great gifts. A look:

the only woman

In the only woman, Immy Humes has collected 100 group photos, mostly black and white, showing a lonely, pioneering woman “who claimed a place in a man’s world.”

There are familiar faces among these standouts, such as banker Christine Lagarde, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto, witty writer Dorothy Parker, and Washington Post editor Katharine Graham. A young Frida Kahlo stands dwarfed next to her massive future husband, Diego Rivera, pictured with an all-male contingent of painters, sculptors, and other art workers at a May Day, 1929 march in New York City. Mexico. War correspondent Martha Gellhorn, wearing a no-nonsense trench coat, interacts with soldiers on the Italian front a few months before D-Day 1944. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sits front row center at 10 Downing Street in a shirt dress, flanked by the two dozen men in dark suits who made up her new cabinet in 1979.

Even more fascinating are some of the stories behind lesser-known female avant-gardes, including a shipyard worker, a racing driver, a gold miner, and several female scientists, nurses, and medical students. Clarissa Wimbush stands out as the only woman member of the Virginia Old Dominion Dental Association in 1961, as does Gloria Richardson, the only woman at a meeting of black civil rights leaders with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963.

The lone woman at the 1946 meeting of the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists (yes, really) is easy to spot because of her elaborate hat. But other “Onlys” are harder to spot in these crowded small-format reproductions, giving Humes’s book an amusing Where’s “Walda” vibe at times.

women holding things

women holding things it combines so many wonderful elements of Maira Kalman’s work: her uncanny ability to balance fantasy and concern, simplicity and depth, and thoughts both mundane and philosophical in sober text and colorful paintings, often channeling Matisse. This volume is an expanded version of a self-published pamphlet that Kalman produced during the pandemic to raise money to fight hunger.

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Unusual for Kalman, the text is typed rather than handwritten, but the cover copy of the book features his attractive handwriting in irregular capitals. Set the tone: “You hold in your hands what I hold most dear. A book. If ever there was a time to hold on to ANYTHING, this is it. Wait, dear friends. Wait.” (Spoiler alert: the lovely back cover reads, “One more thought. Besides holding on, you might as well LET IT GO. But that’s ANOTHER BOOK.”)

In bright paintings with jewel-toned pinks, reds, and greens, there are women holding red balloons, teacups, and garden shears. Several visitors to a museum’s sculpture garden have opinions about modern art, while others hold court or keep the wolves at bay. With typical Kalman wry wit, the impassive Gertrude Stein is depicted at her desk, “staying true to herself by writing things that very few people liked or even read.” An uptight Virginia Woolf is shown as “barely holding together”.

I like it The Principles of Uncertaintyin which Kalman touted the benefits of “meaningful distraction” in the face of an unsettling, often unfathomable world, women holding things delves into autobiographical material. An uncharacteristically dark painting shows a mother holding her son’s hand as Nazi soldiers shoot them in Belarus during the Holocaust, which is what happened to the family Kalman’s father left behind when he emigrated to Palestine before the Holocaust. war. A painting of two girls in identical yellow dresses that also appeared in Uncertainty, it now bears the rubric, “women who bear grudges,” along with the story behind the lifelong animosity between Kalman’s mother-in-law and her twin sister.

Of course, women holding things it is also filled with many of the things that Kalman appreciates and loves to paint: chairs, hats, parks, gardens, bowls of ruby ​​red cherries, vases of red, pink and yellow anemones. In portraits of women holding everything from dog leashes and whiskers to malicious opinions, Kalman’s latest offers an uplifting hymn to strength and perseverance.

great women painters

Great Women]Painters, which complements that of Phaidon great women artists and last year’s Woman Made: great women designers, It shows more than 300 painters born in 60 countries during the 16th to 21st centuries. This beautiful tabletop book is arranged alphabetically, from Pacita Abad and Mary Abbott to Marguerite Zorach and Portia Zvavahera.

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You’ll find many familiar names like Georgia O’Keeffe, Alice Neel, Gwen John, Hilma af Klint and “first-run superstar Old Mistress.”[s]Artemisia Gentileschi and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. But there are also lesser-known artists like Dotty Attie, Anita Rée, Carmen Herrera, and Giulia Lama, and rising stars like Dana Schutz, Jenny Saville, and Amy Sherald (who painted the official portrait of Michelle Obama). ), which creates a rich mix. Each artist is represented by a key painting and a brief biographical note.

The goal, writes Alison M. Gingeras in her introduction, is to “renegotiate the canon” “by setting aside the criteria of auction prices and the subjective categories of aesthetic beauty, technical mastery, and ‘wall power’.” She argues that instead “the valuation calculation” must take into account the historical context and intellectual content of the works, and the “uniqueness and difference” of women artists.

There are delicacies in every era and genre. Some paintings, such as Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin,” and the extreme close-up of Marilyn Minter’s lips in “Big Red” are well known. But surprises abound, not just from artists whose work you didn’t know, but from lesser-known paintings by well-known artists. Mary Cassatt, often associated with her soft-focus Impressionist canvases of mothers and children, is represented by “In the Loge,” which shows a woman staring through opera glasses. Leonora Carrington’s “The Old Maids” represents a kind of surreal tea party filled with creatures that could have stepped out of a fairy tale. In “The Only Blonde in the World,” British pop artist Pauline Boty’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in one of her best-known roles is set in an abstract context that suggests the divide between the public image of the actress and the self. deprived of her

Among contemporary works, I was especially intrigued by Iranian-born Sanam Khatibi’s feminist spin on Renaissance pastorals in “Thirty Days of Hunger,” Latvian Ella Kruglyanskaya’s muscular joggers in “Exit in Flip Flops,” and one of the disturbing ones, in earth tones, by Celia Paul. family portraits, “My sisters in mourning”.

Grandma Moses’s folk art “Summer Party” features a happier scene, and I was glad to remember that the late-blooming artist’s real name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses. The names and work of all these painters deserve to be better known.

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