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Late Career Female Artists Receiving Recognition Across America

Late Career Female Artists Receiving Recognition Across America

In The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988), feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls famously satirized the benefits women enjoy in the art world when compared to their male contemporaries. Number four on the 13-itme list was: “Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty.”

Recognition for female artists historically lags by decades behind what their work has rightly earned and what men in the field are given. Across the United States, numerous late-career women are receiving institutional recognition, some for the first time.

Shirley Woodson (b. 1936) at the Detroit Institute of Art and John LaMarr (b. 1945) at the Nevada Museum of Art have been previously reviewed by Forbes.com. Faith Ringgold’s (b. 1930) retrospective at the New Museum in New York has become one of the hottest tickets in town. Mary Frank’s (b. 1933) various production across sculpture, painting, prints and photographs dazzles.

To these, add John Connor (b. 1933), Bridget Riley (b. 1931) and Mira Lehr (b. 1936).

John Connor

From May 6 through September 25, 2022, the San José Museum of Art presents the first solo museum exhibition for the San Francisco-based Conner. “Jean Conner: Collage” will feature collages from the 1950s to the present and highlight Conner’s whimsical imagination and clever critiques of mass media representations of women, war and the environment.

Does the artist bear any resentment for this recognition coming so late in her career?

“No joy lost. It is best this way,” Connor told Forbes.com. “I don’t feel I ever had much of a career.”

Don’t be fooled by Connor’s modesty.

She’s been consistently producing work for the past 60 years with recent acquisitions by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her career had largely been a private one though, mostly holding back her work from public view, allowing her husband Bruce’s career to take center stage–a common theme for female artists.

Jean Connor takes the spotlight now, however, with the public finally being exposed to her explorations of mysticism and the power of nature as well as notions of feminine beauty and gender norms. She does this through collage, which represents the majority of her output since moving to San Francisco in 1957.

Conner’s early collages include newsprint and paint in abstract compositions. Her approach to making art from everyday objects and images was echoed in the culture around her: the Beat Generation artists in San Francisco who embraced an ethos of experimentation and rebelled against traditional art practices and economic materialism. Resourceful and unconventional, these artists practiced assemblage through various mediums such as photography and sculpture.

By 1960, she was using color magazines almost exclusively. She would create seductive and humorous scenes from images cut out of large-format periodicals, exploring the aspirations and fears of postwar modern life as they were reflected in publications such as “Life Magazine” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.”

Colorful and bizarre, works on view in the show include rarely seen materials from the Conner Family Trust, new acquisitions by SJMA, and works from public museums and private collections.

Bridget Riley

On view now through July 24 at the Yale Center for British Art, “Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction” represents the largest survey of Riley’s work in the US in twenty years. She is no stranger to the art world spotlight.

Riley became an international sensation in the 1960s thanks to her distinctive black-and-white paintings, their rhythmic lines and curves appearing to vibrate across the canvas. She was a pillar of the Op art (optical art) movement.

In 1965, the British artist made her American debut with a sold-out gallery show and prominent placement in The Museum of Modern Art’s influential exhibition of Op art, “The Responsive Eye.” One of her paintings was used for the cover of the catalogue.

In 1968, she became the first woman to win the painting prize at the Venice Biennale.

Her distinctive vision crossed over into Popular culture–often as unauthorized retail knockoffs of her designs in fashion. When she added color to her unique and mesmerizing use of line later in the ’60s, her acclaim ascended further.

Over a seven-decade career, Riley has used color, line, and geometric pattern to explore the dynamic nature of visual perception in paintings, drawings and screen prints.

“No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley,” art critic Robert Melville is quoted saying in 1971.

She has done so by relying on deceptively simple shapes to startling effect.

Riley’s work has always been particularly rigorous and disciplined. The artist maintains that outlook still today.

“My studio practice has remained consistent, so in that sense it is very little different from how it was when I started, except perhaps in scale, but not intimacy,” she told Forbes.com. “I don’t think in terms of inspiration, I think in terms of work and continuing to work. I am as objective as I can be, remembering what (Georges) Braque said about the importance of objectivity for the painter because, as he said, ‘What we do as painters is inevitably so subjective.’ It is imperative that I find out as precisely as I can what I feel and what I see, and act accordingly.”

Work on view in “Perceptual Abstraction” was selected by the artist providing an in-depth examination of her iconic monochrome paintings of the 1960s as well as the full range of her subsequent works in color.

Mira Lehr

Mira Lehr has been called the Godmother of Miami Art. She co-founded one of America’s first art collectives for women, Continuum, in Miami in 1961. It thrived for more than 30 years. Her vision to kickstart the local art scene influenced the evolution of visual arts in Miami to the point where the city is now globally acclaimed as an essential contemporary art destination.

To recognize her contributions, The Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami presents “Mira Lehr: Continuum,” on view now through April 20th in the hotel’s 16th floor gallery space. This presentation isn’t merely a look back, Lehr is creating more new work than ever. On view at the hotel will exclusively be works created in 2021 and 2022 which have never been previously exhibited. “Eco-feminist” long before that moniker was common, Lehr’s nature-based work encompasses painting, sculpture and video incorporating nontraditional media such as gunpowder, fire, fuses, Japanese paper, dyes and welded steel.

In the 1950s, Lehr studied and worked in New York where she met some of America’s most prominent avant-garde painters including: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.

in 1960, she moved her family back to Miami Beach, recalling “I was shocked at the lack of an art scene in Miami in 1960, especially for women artists. We decided to take matters into our own hands and band together our group of women artists to form Continuum as a working co-op to showcase women artists when no one else would.”

Have the gender-biased prejudices Lehr and her contemporaries around the art world faced improved?

“I can say that not only gender and also racial equity have improved very much,” Jean Connor said. “I’m wondering if it will last.”

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