Monday, October 29, 2012

Caryl Reports: Still Standing

Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy
Here in lower Manhattan footsteps away from evacuation zone (aka Battery Park City), I am waiting out Hurricane Sandy, the alleged perfect storm that is coming my way. Maryl is stalled in the Caribbean on a cruise ship that’s been trailing the hurricane for several days. New York Harbor is closed so there’a no telling when she’ll reach port.

My plan today was to tell you about the wonderful show I saw at the National Academy of Arts: Her Own Style: An Artist’s Eye with Judith Shea.  But Mayor Bloomberg has other ideas for how I spend the next two days. Before I get into that, here’s a brief description of this eye-opening exhibit I saw a couple weeks ago.

Curator  Judith Shea (right) with her sculpture of artist  Louise Bourgeois 
Throughout her career, Shea has been intrigued with the self-image of women and explores how a group of female Academicians portrayed themselves, shaped their personal identity, and, ultimately, chose to present themselves for the lens of history through portraiture. She has selected artists who bravely depart from convention, experiment with new angles and palettes and insert the previously absent female protagonist into the genre. Shea has created two original sculptures, one of Elizabeth Catlett and one of Louise Bourgeois, two similarly iconoclastic and groundbreaking artists.

Trained as a clothing designer at Parsons, Shea employed her fashion knowledge in her sculptural work. Her Legacy Collection, a body of work she made following the catastrophic events of 9/11, 
mixes bronze, felt and other materials. At the time, Shea lived in Battery Park City and watched the destruction and aftermath through broken windows, which became a motif in her work. The series won the Artists Legacy Foundation's Artist Award last year. Here is a brief description from the citation: 
Lower Manhattan Classic 

A near-by resident of, and eye witness to the event, she (Shea) wanted to impart the intimate reality, rather than the spectacular one. Her carved, mannequin-like figures, stitched into grey industrial felt, paired, like twins, dust-saturated, and shocked, with their faces uplifted, as if in expectation, become expressive and narrative, rather than glamorous and promotional. 

When Shea had almost completed the body work, she felt she needed one more piece, something that would represent “ resurrection, redemption”, an acknowledgment that she had “lived thru something.” She sculpted this self-image (below), using a mask of her face she had made twenty years earlier. You can see the two hands are clasped symbolizing, the artist says, “determination, continuation". The bare feet indicate the woman’s "groundedness".  This life-size piece opens the show in the first floor gallery of the National Academy of Arts.

Still Standing--Self Portrait by Judith Shea

I'd like to tell you more about the exhibit
 and also share some of the insights Museum of Fine Arts curator Erica Hirschler discussed in her lecture "Alone in the Studio: Artists' Self-Portraits" at the national academy last week.  Mayor Bloomberg, however, suggests that during this calm before the storm (actually the winds are howling now) "we talk to each other, make a sandwich, watch TV, read a book, catch upon your sleep."  All those things sound good to me so ponderous thoughts about art will have to wait.

By the way, Judith Shea still lives in Battery Park City—and something tells me she hasn’t evacuated Zone A either. After the storm, I have no doubt she and I will be still standing. As women, we know we can weather almost any event. . . in our own style.


  1. A wonderful post. I always loved the fierce individualism of Louise Bourgeois and those artists who bring their vision of the world (as their eye sees it and their hand fashions it) - without wavering. (I thought of Alice Neel and Marlene Dumas as I was reading this post as well.)

    Meanwhile, hoping you have power, and that you are safe.

  2. Caryl, I hope you weathered the storm safely and that Maryl returns home safely soon as well. After cutting short our trip to Portland, Oregon because of the storm and dealing with 14 hours without power, it is delightful to learn about a new artist. I hope I'll have a chance to view Judith Shea's work 'in person.' Speaking of strong women artists who bravely depart from convention in presenting their own vision, my friend Kathleen Volp ( fits in that category as well. She makes conceptual art that one must "sit" with. It's not always instantly accessible, and it forces you to think and to look at things in new and different ways.

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