Weekly recommendations: Exhibitions of women in sculpture at RoCA

by Amy Alinkofsky

The Rockland Center for the Arts (RoCA) is proud to present The enchanted garden: colors in motion and the Women in sculpture as part of a tribute to the 20e Centennial artist and feminist, Dorothy Gillespie. The exhibits, which open today (Friday, October 15, 2021) in the Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, include works by Dorothy M. Gillespie, Leigh Taylor Mickelson, Aurora Robson, Simone Kestelman and Cathrin Hoskinson.

Gillespie (1920-2012) was born in Roanoke, Virginia and lived in Nyack for the last years of her life. She pioneered joyful new directions in metal sculpture and is best known for her large-scale, colorful arrangements of cut aluminum strips bending, radiating or undulating in giant arrangements of ribbons, enchanted towers or glowing fireworks. She was well known as a painter, sculptor and installation artist whose work incorporated many 20etrends of the century in art.

During Dorothy Gillespie’s youth… “girls didn’t go to art school, at least not ‘nice’ girls,” Gillespie said in 2010. Nonetheless, she was determined to be an artist and dated Maryland Institute College in Baltimore. She was luckier than the women sculptors of the 19e Century who were mainly hired as workshop assistants by established male sculptors with little exposure. Harriet Hosmer, Emma Stebbins, Edmonia Lewis, Frances Grimes and Helen Mears were some of the few women who made their names in the arts as women during this time. They did not pursue monumental work as often as men and mainly produced bronze works and a constant demand from the middle class for small scale sculpture to decorate the house and garden. Today, many more women are now stepping into traditional male-dominated sculpting roles in metal, wood and stone, thanks to the pioneering activism of women like Dorothy Gillespie in the 20e century.

An influential force in the women’s movement, Gillespie encouraged more female art in museums and art in public spaces. In 1970 Gillespie joined Women in the Arts and created picket signs to protest at the Whitney Museum demanding that curators choose more women artists for their “annual exhibition.” The demonstration worked, and more female artists were chosen for the show. Although the increase was very slow, over time it increased from 8% to 40%. Gillespie was the founder of the Women Artists Historical Archives at the Women’s Interart Center in NY, NY, filming and recording interviews with some of the 20’s most important women artists.e century while presenting its own radio show. Gillespie and Joyce Weinstein founded a group called NY Professional Women Artists. The 14 members lecture at universities and have written articles to encourage other women artists.

The enchanted garden: colors in motion The exhibit at RoCA features Dorothy Gillespie’s cheerful and brightly colored bursts of stars hanging from the trees as well as along the trail. The rooms create an enchanted garden of moving colors. Although stationary, they seem to possess a kinetic quality. Two larger rooms can be seen at the entrance to RoCA.

Leigh Taylor Mickelson’s Ceramic Botany The inhabitants of the garden the sculptures uniquely mimic the range of organisms, from their microscopic to multicellular; however, they also reflect what is recognizable as “human”: the different components of self, sexuality and family, and how these components relate to and conflict with one another. Using natural forms – especially those found in plant life – she uses her work to “magnify” the elements of this dichotomy: natural forms playing out the spiritual, emotional and physical dramas that exist within us as humans. His most recent work pays homage to one of his most recent inspirations: the will to pollinate a plant. For Mickelson, the private “trade” in flowering plants mimics to a fascinating degree human courtship and company, seduction and sexuality. It also recalls the history of the Garden of Eden, with its legendary beauty but its nascent eroticism. Plant life, when magnified, reveals a beauty and familiarity that is sadly invisible to the naked eye. Mickelson’s work aims to capture the essence and beauty of these organic forms, revealing our common desire to seduce and reproduce.

Mickelson has served as Executive Director of the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, NY, as well as Director of Exhibitions for Baltimore Clayworks and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Board of Education for the Ceramic Arts as Director of Exhibitions .

Aurora Robson created a plastic sculpture 12ft x 8ft x 7ft high. (We think plastic is “disposable” when it is precisely the opposite.) Robson is raising awareness of our huge plastic waste problem and the damaging effects on our planet. This moment in time is considered the “plastic apocalypse” according to the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine. We suggest that it is time to focus on our plastic footprints and how to reduce them as a species. These sculptural works were made from cleaned, cut and welded plastic drums extracted from the waste stream.

Aurora Robson is best known for her large, living and complex plastic installations. She developed a teaching course to encourage a paradigm shift in arts and science education while helping to restrict the flow of plastic debris to our oceans. She uses her art to inspire others to rethink and reinvent plastic waste in ways that promote creative strategies for recycling discarded plastics into new objects. Robson is an eco-activist and founder of Project Vortex, an international organization of artists, architects and designers working together to reduce the amount of plastic debris littering our oceans and shores. Some of the main collections of his work can be found: The Figge Art Museum, IA; Kingsbrae Gardens, NB, Canada; South Carolina Aquarium, South Carolina; and the Poipu Beach Hotel, HI.

Simone Kestelman’s glass Warriors the sculptures represent different types of inner strength, together they show that individuals are stronger when they accept their vulnerability and remain strong in spite of it. Glass sculptures may appear fragile but are resistant to heat, cold, pressure, and chemicals. They can withstand heavy rains, snowstorms and heat waves. In times of stress, if we stand still, we realize how strong we are at overcoming adversity. The stripes of its pieces represent the DNA that makes us each unique. These sculptures express the diversity of individuality and personality.

Kestelman’s work reflects on and comments on important social issues through his work, focusing on injustice, inequality and abuse by going beyond traditional imagery and sculpture. Its intention is to get more people to think and act to promote the protection of women and children in vulnerable situations. She was director of the SK Gallery in White Plains, NY and has exhibited at the Museum of Art, Morago, CA, the Tucson Contemporary Womens Art Collective, the United Nations, MOCA in Calgary, Canada and A Hebraica Gallery, Novotel Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The great metal of Cathrin Hoskinson Link the sculptures are drawings of natural forms, poetic images that recall memories, aspirations and beauty – an essence of what makes us human. Following different types of patterns, it presents a connection between the internal structures of the body and the external lines of nature. His works remind the viewer of our place in the world as part of the fabric of being. Hoskinson’s sculpture Silver Night suggests a forest at night in which dancing trees have been lit by a column of moonlight. Four interlocking planes in mirror-finished stainless steel suggest an abstraction of moving figures, supporting a circular shape, made of sequins flickering in the wind.

Hoskinson’s sculptures have been installed across the country, including New York, Illinois, Florida, California, Virginia, Maryland, and North and South Carolina. Born in Montreal, she has lived in New York City since 1974, earning her Masters of Fine Arts from Hunter College. Hoskinson worked at the Argos Foundry in Brewster, NY.

Other semi-permanent works exhibited by female sculptors include Grace Knowlton, Monica Banks, Caroline Bergonzi, and Martha Friedman.

The Catherine Konner Sculpture Park is open from dawn to dusk and is free to the public. Brochures can be picked up at the registration desk. For more information visit: www.rocklandartcenter.org or call 845-358-0877. The exhibitions will remain on display until October 2023.

This exhibition has been made possible through the generous support of the Dorothy M. Gillespie Foundation and Gary Israel. RoCA’s programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with support from Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. Funding is also made possible by the County of Rockland.

The Rockland Center for the Arts is the oldest and largest arts organization in Rockland County, presenting exceptional arts programming for over 70 years. RoCA is located at 27 S Greenbush Rd, West Nyack.


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Christopher A. Mayer