An exhibition initiated and sponsored by The Southern California Council of the California Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
Curators: Helen Alameda Lewis & Josine Ianco Starrels
June 9 - August 21, 1994
Martha Alf is most often identified by images of pears, rendered singly or as a group, on classically ordered black –and-white drawings that have emerged from her studio for over fifteen years. On Alf’s surfaces, the pear takes on a presence that challenges both the concept of “contemporary” and art history itself, in the implication of timelessness that persists even as change occurs, as when defined background gives way to indeterminate field, hazy skin rendering to faithful delineation. Even classical organization may surrender to the baroque, if more often in departures from pears to other organisms, as the oblique organization of Three Lemons (1986) suggests. Indeed, other images, and, for that matter, the absence of images have appeared on some of Alf’s surfaces over the years, but on others, the pears resolutely persevere.
“I never thought about being a woman. I was too busy working,” was Claire Falkenstein’s response to a recent query. Not only was her career well underway at least three decades before the inception of the feminist movement, but based in San Francisco , in the 1940’s the West Coast’s center of avant-garde art, Falkenstein was viewed as ahead of her time. Stubbornly resistant to prevailing trends and local styles, as she has continued to be, Falkenstein was cued by modern masters such as Picasso and Arp, whose breakthroughs steered the course of modernism. Constantly inventing, she was drawn to wood early on, even then perceiving matter as an enclosure of space awaiting release.
Indeed, to Falkenstein, space and mass are forms of energy that are interactive and interchangeable. Thus she “exploded the volume” in Rotating (1942), whose three parts could be separated, to be observed within a spatial relationship, or interlocked as a unitary structure, whichever the viewer willed.
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison have worked as a collaborative team for over two decades. They have been a couple nearly twice that long. Originally trained as painters, their work has gradually evolved from the domestic scale to the global, flowing beyond the studio into a life practice. And just as their day begins with a ritual meditation and dialogue, their work is both contemplative and conversational on a variety of levels.
The Harrisons’ collaboration began rather casually as a result of Newton’s inclusion in the “Art and Technology” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1970 based on his work with glow discharge tubes to explore equivalences between light and color…The Harrisons had already collaborated informally on a pragmatic, domestic level with issues of survival ecology-issues that would increasingly come to dominate the work.