Material and Process Exalted at Equity Gallery's FemiNest, Curated by Melinda Wang + Heather Zises

Soft cascades and sharp angles meet the viewer head-on in equal measure at FemiNest, a group exhibition of work by women artists on view at Equity Gallery through Saturday, March 25. A formidable tour of the possibilities present within contemporary sculpture, assemblage and painting, the artists - Natalie Frank, Karen Lee Williams, Michele Oka Doner, Barbara Segal, Page Turner & Vadis Turner – each produce confounding and challenging works.

An array of practices trace artistic development through a variety of materials: hard marble sculptures are situated near assemblage works incorporating wood and fabric, while soft sculpture and resin-covered fabric 2-D sculptures vie for attention at the gallery’s entry. The clever and cogent curation of these works brings these artworks to life in an appropriate dialogue around what constitutes "feminine" and "feminist" art.

Karen Lee Williams, L-->R: MAW - Violence in Mind (2017) and MAW - Bile (2017), both cotton cord, dye and steel

Karen Lee Williams, L-->R: MAW - Violence in Mind (2017) and MAW - Bile (2017), both cotton cord, dye and steel

 

Entering the gallery, the viewer is presented with structured, 2-D fabric sculptures created from re-purposed ribbon and, intermittently, resin. Based in Nashville, TN, artist Vadis Turner works with upcycled textiles to create abstract and tactile 2-D sculptures that examine complex histories of material and process which also navigate and unpack the loaded meaning of “women’s work”. By incorporating sections of resin into her work, Turner blurs the lines between hard and soft, craft and high art, indelibly questioning why these binaries exist to begin with.

Arranged in close proximity to Turner's complex pieces are Karen Lee Williams' soft sculpture series, Maws, in which simple forms and implied movement delineate the lines between inviting and sinister structures. Using only dyed cotton rope and steel, these works offer the illusion of giving and receiving in turn: wrapping cord through a steel hoop that reaches down into darkness with one Maw while approaching the visitor's feet with another piece. These loose, abstract pieces provoke a visceral response with their simplicity of material and minimal use of form. 

Natalie Frank, Couple in Interior I (2016), oil on board

Natalie Frank, Couple in Interior I (2016), oil on board

Moving further into the gallery, viewers encounters Natalie Frank's unnerving paintings, Couple in Interior I & Couple in Interior II.  With obscured backgrounds that portray residential interiors with seated figures conspiring with and against one another, promises of sensuality and violence abound in these evocative paintings. The only oil on board works in the show, hints of Francis Bacon and John Currin haunt Frank's discerning practice, resulting in a disorienting view of the inherent power structure laced into gender relations. Luckily, a short visual breathing space occurs between these works and Michele Oka Doner's pieces just off to the visitor's left - allowing a palette cleanse before encountering a vitrine packed with empowering objects and relics.

Michele Oka Doner, Objects (2017) mixed materials

Michele Oka Doner, Objects (2017) mixed materials

Details: Michele Oka Doner, Objects (2017)

Details: Michele Oka Doner, Objects (2017)

A skilled artist and designer, Doner's holistic worldview and celebration of the inherent power of womanhood is imbued within her human-scale sculptures and found artifacts. Referencing the ancient and commanding a strong visual and psychological presence, Doner's works range from delicate to firm, to a combination of the two. Combining a range of organic materials from wood to shells to bone, Doner's synthesis of natural elements and design create a sense of unity with the natural world. Upon reaching the final section of the gallery, visitors are met with Barbara Segal's cheeky sculptures and Page Turner's elaborate assemblage works. Segal's works, created from Belgian black marble and alternately with Carrera white marble and bronze, create objects of feminine sensuality from this cold, dense stone. A former student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Segal is a classically trained sculptor whose work has evolved to incorporate power symbols and pop culture, referencing iconic feminine symbols of status and beauty. This combination of hard and soft, and cold and sensual, evokes a sense of discomfort and serves as an unsettling look at function vs. form: these bodice forms, so realistic, could never be realistically worn. 

Page Turner, L-->R Tiny Toes (2012), Merry Jane (2014) and Headmistress Harpie (2011), all assemblage incorporating personal and found/family objects

Page Turner, L-->R Tiny Toes (2012), Merry Jane (2014) and Headmistress Harpie (2011), all assemblage incorporating personal and found/family objects

In dialogue with Segal's works the viewer encounters the quirky and dedicated 3D assemblages of Page Turner. Raised with strong sense of Mormon beliefs,  Turner, who lives and works in Roanoke, VA, creates unique works that reflect her spiritual practice and a strong focus upon materiality. Using a variety of found materials such as fur, wood, shells, paper, and bone, each anthropomorphic form takes on a powerful psychological presence, blending Surrealism and Dada into a decidedly new feminist aesthetic. The inclusion of domestic fabrics and natural materials are a perfect end note to the range and impact of the exhibition’s visual presence. Encompassing multipurpose materials yet forming a clean, powerful aesthetic emblazoned with evidence of skill and mastery, these works by women artists are a clear indication that feminist art has a long and storied future ahead.

FemiNest is curated by Melinda Wang, Executive Director of Equity Gallery and Heather Zises, Founder of (READ)art and is on view at Equity Gallery (245 Broome Street, ground floor) until March 25, 2017. For more information visit nyartistsequity.org or contact info@nyartistsequity.org.