Whitehot Magazine

WOMEN at Nicole Klagsbrun

Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, Iowa, 1976-1978, color photograph, © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Licensed by Artists Rights Society, NY 2024


By JONATHAN GOODMAN April 4, 2024 

People have been very much aware of the necessity of a woman’s grouping, which would transform stereotypes. The group show WOMEN, on view now, continues Nicole Klagsbrun’s working engagement with several artists and her decades-long commitment to presenting work made by women. The show can also serve as a historical overview, on a limited scale, of remarkable artists, most of whom are well recognized. The works demonstrate the ongoing achievement of artists both new and historical.  

Connected through the role of oneself in artistic production is key to artists’ in the show. Ana Mendieta, the gifted Cuban-American artist who came to the United States as a child and became well known for her provocative performance, body art, photographs, and earthworks. The photograph, Untitled: Silueta Series, Iowa, presents Mendieta inlayed into the natural world, of a semi-wooded area. Made in 1976, the picture shows brush, trees, and decaying tree trunks. Mendieta’s use of her own body as imprint or integration into the “Silueta'' series serves as an exploration of the relationship between the human form and the natural world. In conversation, Mendieta, Ruais, and Mary Beth Edelson’s work, also in the show, contribute to an ongoing practice of the use of one’s body in feminist art and art made by women artists to challenge the realm of conventional art making while simultaneously integrating oneself into the art in the most direct way.  

Brie Ruais, Inside Folded Out, 128lbs (Artist’s body weight in clay spread out then folded open from the center), 2013, stoneware clay, metallic glaze, hardware. 70 x 69 x 6 inches 177.8 x 175.3 x 15.2 cm (BRu29).

Brie Ruais’ large, open circle of clay, roughly expressed on the surface and edges of the curve, has a silver/gray patina. The weight of the work, 128 pounds, matches Ruais’s body weight exactly. So the piece, as much a picture frame as anything else, is both a suggestion of a mirrored vessel, without the subject present, an abstract reinvention of the circle, one of culture’s oldest and most mystical motifs, and a literal stand-in for the artist herself. The work takes its form through the maneuvered clay that holds the memory of this physical process. Through this approach to sculpture themes of embodiment and direct physical confrontation with form present a meditative confluence of art and nature as well as an artist's bodily engagement with material. That a single object would carry so many meanings at once speaks well for the artist, whose symbolism here is always tied neatly and imaginatively to herself. 

Sana Musasama, I See Me Number 12, 2021-2022, ceramic mixed media 10 x 8 inches (SaMu9).

Sana Musasama, has three small dolls made of clay and mixed media in the show. Only ten inches high, this example of the trio (made in 2021-22) has a coat of white covered with diminutive black designs. Hair extends wrapped in glass beads from the female figure's head while its legs are attached to a freely rolling rod, enabling the doll to move the lower half of its body. These sculptural works are reminiscent of children’s playthings, as they serve as reimagining of the doll her mother gave her as a source of self-love and acceptance. More an amulet than entertainment for a child, these works remind us that apparently playful art can carry messages of real seriousness, in this case providing a reflection that surpasses stereotypical, racist, historical narratives.  

This show’s broad differences in form and genre make for interest throughout. The women we meet here and their work are almost always rooted in material or content. There is still considerable need to make sure that women artists continue to be seen to this day. The show WOMEN, is grounded in the legacy of Nicole Klagbrun promoting women artists–at a time when women were truly moving out of relative obscurity as artists and taking their rightful place as the equals of men or better–in the sense that their hidden presence, once made available by assertion and skill, allowed women artists from all over the world to experiment and hold their own with men. WM

Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. 


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