Dwell: Me We by Njdeke Akunyili

Wonderful exhibit at The Modern proves we’ve been ignoring half the world’s artists

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Women Painting Women features a diverse group of 46 women artists and their stylistically diverse depictions of women — and in one case men — on display at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The question I left the museum with is, why don’t I know these artists? Why haven’t I seen any of this work before?

Well, some of these artists are young and just exploding onto the scene. But the real answer is, “Men.”

When I walked through a few galleries of the museum’s permanent collection, only canvasses by men were on view.

If the museum is looking for some suggestions for its future purchases and if its benefactors are searching for ideas of what’s needed to round out the collection, look no further than the variety of women artists included in this exhibit. Here are some of my favorite pieces on view:

A Midsummer Afternoon’s Dream

While the entrance canvas is a luscious portrait of a black woman in a blue dress leaning against her yellow bicycle in front of a white picket fence separating her from a field of sunflowers, the rest of the exhibit isn’t as tame. But this first-in glimpse of the show is among my favorites.

The painting is by Amy Sherald, and I’d love to see more of her work. Entitled A Midsummer Afternoon’s Dream, a take-off on Shakespeare, the pastoral setting, we infer from the title, is not reality. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful portrait that works on multiple levels.

Apolonia Sokol’s Le Printemps leaves little to the imagination. Her work features nine transgender and gender fluid women in various stages of dress. But the large canvas is simply a portrait presenting nine women. No fetish; no transphobia, just an array of women — an array of women that will horrify the same people in government who are so busy banning books. But art is political, and this is one of the best examples of that in the show.

I want to see more of Sokol’s work as well as that of Sylvia Sleigh whose 1973 work The Turkish Bath is included — despite featuring men not women. The Turkish Bath is modeled after the classic Ingres work by the same name. His 1862 painting features a large group of naked women presumed to be prostitutes. Sleigh turns the tables — same setting as the classic canvas, but men become the sexual objects. The museum notes in its publication for the exhibit that the central reclining male nude is Sleigh’s husband, suggesting he’s her prostitute.

Two Girls in a Bar by Ania Hobson

Ania Hobson’s Two Girls in a Bar depicts two women with drinks surveying the room. My initial take on the painting was they were a lesbian couple just gazing at what was going on.

Of course, I always think the best of people and assume two women together are lesbians. But that’s just me. They could also be two straight women in a bar scoping out the men. It happens.
But on third look, their feet are touching under the table, so I’ll go with my original version.

And I don’t know why I was so drawn to Jenny Saville’s three-canvas Strategy (North Face, Front Face, South Face). The relaxed expression on the voluptuous woman invites a long stare at her body from all three angles, each time wearing only a bra and panties. Maybe I love how Saville’s three paintings challenge what beauty is.

Finally, I also hope to see more work by Njdeka Akunyili Crosby whose Dwell: Me We is part of The Modern’s collection. A black woman sitting at a table with a paper cup of coffee is the scene, but her expressive face had me returning to the canvas several times.

If I were to have some input into curating this exhibit, I’d change only one thing: I’d change the name to Women Painting Women Part 1 and anxiously await a Part 2.

Women painting women is on exhibit through Sept.25 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St.