By Joan Altabe
Art Critic for the Examiner
An excerpt from a review of the exhibition In Praise of Women
October 31, 2010 4:43 pm ET
This is not one of those art-by-gender shows. Inclusion in this case doesn't depend on anatomy like last year’s ridiculous display at Centre Pompidou. You may remember that citadel of contemporary art purging its collection galleries of man-made work for an all-women’s art show, avowing to compensate women for history’s disregard of their art. A dated effort, if there ever was one.
“In Praise of Women,” mounted by Spanierman Gallery in New York, is no look back in anger. Rather, its a look at nearly 100 portrayals of women by American male and female artists from colonial times to now and said to reflect the way we were and the changes that followed.
One may wonder, though, if it's possible to gauge mindsets of the past, given that the view is filtered through 21st century experience. Point of comparison: many images in this show, even from colonial days, seem to convey the idea that women felt put-upon by societal expectations. Is that them talking or us?
...it's an historical fact that colonial society was bent on emulating English aristocracy and dressed the part. You can see the blue-blood aspirations even in William Sidney Mount’s “Portrait of a Young Lady,” painted after the Colonial era ended. While it’s the picture of English nobility, you can't help thinking that the “young lady” is wearing a “when is this farce going to be over” look.
A similar look marks other exhibit examples, again by investing them
with modern values. After all, 19th century America was still infatuated with foreign culture, even despite its independence...
You have to wonder what lies behind the portraits in the “In Praise of Women” collection. Whatever the case, the strength of the Spanierman Gallery's effort is that you get a view not only of the way artists viewed women and the way women in their pictures viewed themselves, but you also get your view of the way you think of women.
Kudos to Spanierman for an ambitious and provocative show. Pompidou, eat your heart out!
Read the full review by Joan Altabe on examiner.com.