Artist Spotlight: Shinique Smith

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Bale Variant No. 0017 (2009)

By: Shinique Smith (b. 1971, Baltimore, Maryland)

Shinique Smith, Bale Variant No. 0017, 2009; Fabric, ink, twine, ribbon, and wood, 72 x 52 x 52 in.; Denver Art Museum Collection; Gift of Baryn Futa to the Collection of the Denver Art Museum, 2013.6A-B; © Shinique Smith; Photo © Denver Art Museum

Shinique Smith’s Bale Variant No. 0017 is comprised entirely of found material; the massive installation involves more than 110 cubic feet of bundled fabric—mostly clothing—arranged in a white-to-blue gradient. Consequently, the density, scale, and weight of the piece all speak to Smith’s fascination with the ever-increasing velocity of American consumption. Bale Variant No. 0017, with its murky color scheme and battered textiles, conjures images of ocean debris and landfill compaction. Despite the almost overwhelming amount of content in the work, however, Smith’s roots in minimalism are evident in her dedication to clean, even shapes.

Bale Variant No. 0017 equalizes the personal narrative in each piece of found material. In treating both well-loved and long-forgotten articles of clothing with the same detachment, Smith assigns these fabrics a new sense of connection that questions the foundation of their original value. Additionally, there are personal notations from Smith and her friends hidden inside the folds of the clothing, further emphasizing the many contradicting perspectives contained within the bale—and, by association, within the act of consuming and discarding.

Like Bale Variant No. 0017, another work by Smith in Magnetic Fields, Whirlwind Dancer (2013–17), is both massive and densely layered. However, Whirlwind Dancer contains a distinct sense of motion that Bale Variant No. 0017 lacks. As the title suggests, Whirlwind Dancer’s climbing lines, twisting colors, and nebulous form create a cyclone of ink, acrylic, paper, fabric, and wood.

Smith’s attraction to collage, as a medium, lies in what she calls a “hybrid” nature. “The more hybrid something is, the stronger it is—think about DNA, in that sense—that really stuck with me. I feel like the more things can be brought into the mix and combined together, the stronger it can be visually, and the more interesting it is as a problem for me to solve.”

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

NO MAN’S LAND: Follow the Threads

Contemporary large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids are on view in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. The exhibition imagines a visual conversation between 37 women artists from 15 countries exploring images of the female body and the physical process of making. Works by Shinique Smith, Sonia Gomes, and Rosemarie Trockel make innovative use of textiles.

Shinique Smith, Menagerie, 2007; Mixed media on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Shinique Smith, Menagerie, 2007; Mixed media on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

What’s On View?

Shinique Smith’s Menagerie, 2007

“I like dancing between restraint and chaos,” says Shinique Smith (b. 1971, Baltimore), who collaged secondhand fabric and clothing into this large-scale work along with script-covered papers and photographs. Smith’s complex, yet spontaneous-seeming art is inspired by our culture’s cycle of acquiring and discarding: “I think my work is very American, and the way we consume and cast off is unique to us.” She also cites a New York Times Magazine article that discussed how discarded clothing is baled and traded worldwide.

Collecting textiles from friends, family, thrift stores, and other sources is part of Smith’s creative process. Smith, whose grandmother had a talent for interior design and whose mother is a former fashion editor, taps into her personal associations—popular culture, graffiti and calligraphy, her family, and her hometown of Baltimore—to create eclectic and energetic work.

Sonia Gomes’s Made in America, 2015

Like Smith’s works, expressive hanging sculptures by Sonia Gomes (b. 1948, Caetanópolis, Brazil), use textiles to explore identity and memory. Three of her works are on view—two from a series of pieces titled Made in America, and Tantas Estorias (Many Histories).

IMG_4753

Installation view of Sonia Gomes’s two works from a series titled Made in America (2015)

Gomes creates these sculptures by wrapping, twisting, and stitching found or gifted textiles over wire armatures. Organic shapes evoke organs, outlines, or sacred objects. Gomes’s works are inspired by her family—her father’s family worked in a textile factory, and she was influenced by the traditional dress and rituals of her maternal grandmother, an indigenous spiritual healer and midwife.

Rosemarie Trockel’s untitled wool work, 1990

Textile works by Rosemarie Trockel (b. 1952, Schwerte, West Germany) also reflect the close relationship between her medium and meaning.

Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled, 1990; Wool; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled, 1990; Wool; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Featuring repeated patterns stitched by machine, Trockel’s “knitted pictures” are attached to wood frames like those used to stretch paintings on canvas.

Trockel questions the gendered connotations of materials, as well as the distinction between “fine” arts, such as painting, and craft. “I tried to take wool, which was viewed as a woman’s material, out of that context and to rework it in a neutral process of production,” she says. NO MAN’S LAND includes three of her knitted pieces—one with a pattern of skulls, another with stripes, and one that is a large, dark field of color.

Visit the museum and explore NO MAN’S LAND, on view through January 8, 2017.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Opening This Friday: NO MAN’S LAND

Large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids reveal the expressive range of women artists in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, on view from September 30, 2016, to January 8, 2017.

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013; Mixed media, 72 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013; Mixed media, 72 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is collaborating with the Rubell Family Collection (RFC), Miami, to realize a new vision for the exhibition that opened at the RFC’s space in December 2015. The exhibition features 37 women artists whose aesthetically diverse work addresses wide-ranging intellectual and political themes. Although women historically had limited access to training and opportunity in the traditional fields of sculpture and painting, the title of the exhibition suggests “a space free from the rule of any sovereign power” where women artists are able to adapt and modify these mediums.

The highly focused selection of paintings and sculptures emphasizes the female body and the physical process of art-making. Ever since the feminist art movement of the 1960s and ’70s, these two themes have become prevalent avenues for experimentation, play, and subversion.

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel, 48 x 36 in.

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel, 48 x 36 in.

During the feminist art movement, women artists claimed ownership over visualization of the body. Artists in NO MAN’S LAND explore this history and experiment with the expressive potential of the female form. Some artists, including Cecily Brown and Mickalene Thomas, adapt the art-historical theme of the odalisque by transforming its typically passive character. Others such as Hayv Kahraman use portraiture as a space for self-expression. Many of the works on view signify broader ideas about culture, gender, and ethnicity.

For artists in NO MAN’S LAND, the physical process of making is key to developing meaning, exploring intellectual conundrums, and conjuring psychological experiences. Painters and sculptors eliminate hierarchies among mediums by disrupting conventional ideas about women and handcraft. Historically defined as “women’s work,” handcraft remains a gendered topic in art. Artists including Analia Saban, Rosemarie Trockel, and Shinique Smith focus on unconventional materials or labor-intensive techniques. They upend tradition to suit their aesthetic and intellectual purposes.

Visit the exhibition before the public during the opening reception on September 29, 2016. See the full calendar of events for NO MAN’S LAND.

—Francisca Rudolph is the fall 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.