Dismantling Structures

A period dominated by pioneering literary figures such as Betty Friedman and Sylvia Plath, and movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe, the 1950s and 1960s were also the catalyst for an eruption of abstract practices by female artists. Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction at MoMA, New York, presents 100 works created within this era by more than 50 international practitioners. The showcase is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator in the Department of Photography, Starr Figura, Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints, and Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Drawings and Prints.

Making Space traces the impact of World War II on female independence and opportunity. Previously pigeonholed and often confined to domestic spheres, societal shifts made it progressively more possible for women to pursue creative careers. Abstraction was the route that many took between 1945 and the late 1960s. The war had dismantled structures that were once solid, buildings had disintegrated into cubic ruins, and along with the post-war optimism, existentialism lingered in the air. But the impact of widespread conflict did not completely shatter the social boundaries within which many were still trapped. Men generally still dominated and the art world offered little in the way of support for female practitioners.

Decades later, MoMA gives these avant-garde pioneers the celebration they deserve. The display is organised into five sections: Gestural Abstraction, Fiber and Line, Reductive Abstraction, Geometric Abstraction and Eccentric Abstraction, deeply examining the multi-disciplinary elements under the over-arching theme. From the totemic wood sculptures by Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911) to the epic hanging weavings of Magdalena Abakanowicz (b. 1930), the exhibition’s attention to detail and success in showcasing all elements of this movement is evident.

As a significant landmark in MoMA’s ongoing commitment to increasing its representation of female artists, the show unearths a variety of unknown creations and the project exposes the public to the multitude of diverse avenues taken by women on the verge of an iconic social and sexual revolt.

Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, MoMA, New York, 15 April – 13 August. Find out more: www.moma.org

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1. Lee Bontecou, Untitled (1961). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund, 1963. © 2017 Lee Bontecou