Arts / Museums

Fighting the Male Gaze — The Modern’s Arresting New Art Exhibit Showcases “Women Painting Women” in a Fort Worth Groundbreaker

A Very Different Look and Perspective Change For the Better

BY // 05.16.22

The newest exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth opened on Sunday. “Women Painting Women” will be on view at the Modern through September 25. And it’s something different.

Women have been portrayed by male artists throughout the centuries ― objectified, idealized, stylized and dismissed in equal measure. This new Modern exhibit turns all that on its head. When the artist is a woman, you can bet that the tables will be turned and the vantage point will take on all the stereotypes.

What shows through in these artworks ranges from dignity and bravery to a unique transparency and unexpected realism. Raw, intense and human.

As you ascend the staircase to the second floor galleries, you are greeted by “A Midsummer Afternoon Dream” (2020), artist Amy Sherald’s depiction of a woman of color enjoying a leisurely summer bicycle ride.

“The skin color is often a shade of gray,” Modern Art Museum chief curator Andrea Karnes says. “She doesn’t want people to get focused on the ethnicity or on skin color.”

What’s more important to Sherald is depicting her subjects in scenes of leisure. Something few of the great masters of past centuries would have taken any interest in. This initial artwork shows you where the rest of the exhibition is heading. It is a vision of women that flips the script.

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Chief curator Andrea Karnes stands at the entrance to The Modern’s new exhibit. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

“This exhibition spans the last 50 years of women painters,” Karnes notes. “ The point of the show is about the inclusive ways women paint women. It is not hung chronologically, but rather thematically.”

The artworks featured in “Women Painting Women” flow through several galleries and are organized into four major themes: Color as Portrait, Selfhood, Nature Personified and The Body. The collection considers the works of 46 women artists who chose women as the subject matter of their works.

The featured artists range from early trailblazers like Alice Neel and Emma Amos to emerging artists such as Jordan Casteel, Jenna Gribbon and Apolonia Sokol.

Hope Gangloff, “Queen Jane Approximately,” 2011. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

The first rooms are an explosion of color. This is the Color as Portrait section of the exhibition. The bold hues speak to “female identity, including race, gender and archetypes,” according to The Modern’s literature. The artworks depict women of many colors.

The next grouping dubbed Selfhood “examines the subtleties of gesture, posture and setting to portray the energy or presence of the sitter’s psychological and sometimes physical human state,” a release states. Themes of imperialism, as well as the absence of inclusive female portraits, are also examined.

If you feel like you’ve never seen anything like this before, you’re probably right. That’s because these visions are so underrepresented and rare in the art world.

The mythology of woman is explored in the Nature Personified section of the exhibition. This includes “mother earth figures, priestesses, and goddesses, as well as the metaphysical powers associated with being female,” according to the exhibit notes.

Christiane Lyons, “Yayoi: Arrangement in Yellow Lake and Vermillion Clair,” 2021. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

The artists come from many cultures, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. As do the women they portray. Especially one raucous piece from Christiane Lyons titled “Yayoi: Arrangement in Yellow Lake and Vermillion Clair” (2021), which mashes up many women of different ethnicities and even from different time periods into one unified identity. It’s as if to say that women — no matter how diverse and separate they many seem — still know what it means to be a woman with a deeper understanding and appreciation.

Perhaps the most dramatic works can be found in the final rooms, the section called The Body, which examines the spectrum from intentionally unidealized to fantasized nudes. The female form ― its flesh and curves from sexualization to objectification — is highlighted.

“The pivotal narrative in Women Painting Women is how these artists use the conventional portrait of a woman as a catalyst to tell another story outside of male interpretations of the female body,” Karnes says.

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