Women’s Work Exhibition
On View May 26th through September 26th, 2022
This groundbreaking exhibition tracks the deep, pervasive, and continuing influence of the historic female domestic craft tradition in the practice of contemporary women artists and invites new investigations into the position of women in the contemporary art world. These historic and contemporary works by women artists will be on view this summer.
The exhibition will be on view in our exhibition gallery located in the Welcome Center complex and also in the historic mansion. You can view Women’s Work in a few ways:
- Visit the exhibition gallery on days that we are open for tours (Friday-Sunday in May & Thursday – Monday starting in July); entrance to the exhibition gallery is included with your ticket for any guided tour here at Lyndhurst. The gallery is open from 11 am to 3:30 pm.
- Take our specialized Women’s Work Exhibition Tour which will tour both the exhibition gallery and the mansion and specifically discuss the works on display and the artists who created them.
- Take our Classic Mansion Tour to hear about the mansion and its history, but also see the exhibition objects that are on display inside the mansion.
Read the New York Times’ Article about the Exhibition:
Women’s Work seeks to establish the influence of this handwork tradition in the practice of contemporary women artists by placing examples of traditional women’s work in conversation next to contemporary art that was influenced by this tradition. The historic works and contemporary pieces displaying their influence would be placed side-by-side throughout the Lyndhurst mansion in the domestic setting, albeit a grand one, for which the historic pieces were originally created. This would allow us to establish the pervasiveness of the traditional influence among contemporary artists and show the broad diversity of traditional handcraft mediums employed. Placing these objects side-by-side allows contemporary viewers to re-evaluate these historic works and view them as the art objects they were always intended to be.
To provide a few specific examples of how this will be achieved, in Lyndhurst’s 1840s parlor, a 19th-century dome-covered display of delicate silk flowers will be placed on a center table next to a dome-covered display of cast-glass dandelions created by Kiki Smith. Another parlor table will display a bowl of beaded fruit next to an outsized bead-encrusted rotting lemon by contemporary artist Kathleen Ryan. In Lyndhurst’s library, a 19th-century silhouette depicting women gaily cutting black-paper silhouettes in a well-appointed room will be hung above a black paper silhouette pop-up book by Kara Walker interpreting the experience of the enslaved. With these is a silhouette-inspired drawing by now forgotten pop artist Idelle Weber depicting women encountering the glass ceiling and a silhouetted drawing of petroglyphs by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Nearby, a 19th-century hair wreath memorializing the hair of deceased family members will be displayed with hair sculptures made by contemporary artist Nafis White from braided hair extensions used by Black women and secured with bobby pins. Lyndhurst’s dining room will include a tureen by Cindy Sherman decorated with an image of the artist disguised as Madame de Pompadour next to a 19th-century hand-painted cup and saucer from Lyndhurst’s collection depicting the image of a French Duchess.
In a bedroom belonging to Lyndhurst’s last owner, Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand, her embroidered personal effects and lingerie will be placed next to similar lingerie embroidered with rap lyrics by Zoe Buckman and a nightgown embroidered by Maira Kalman. In Lyndhurst’s grand picture gallery, 19th-century sculptures by Harriet Hosmer, an American lesbian sculptor working in Rome (one of the few examples in which such women were allowed to practice as professional artists) and lent by contemporary artist Patricia Cronin, will be paired with Cronin’s sculpture, Memorial to a Marriage, depicting her and wife Deborah Kass in a sculptural style influenced by Hosmer. In another girl’s bedroom, flower paintings of orchids from the Lyndhurst greenhouse by 19th-century society floral painter Irma Komlosi are displayed with a cast silicone rubber floral painting, replete with insects and rot, by contemporary artist Jeanne Silverthorne, as well as a video by Los Angeles-based artist Cauleen Smith showing an African-American woman arranging flowers in the colors of women’s prison uniforms as prison trustees watch.
The exhibition is broadly representative, including 20th-century pioneers and household names, mid-and late-career artists who have toiled for years with varied levels of public recognition as well as new, young artists. While the exhibition focuses almost exclusively on American artists, it seeks to be largely inclusive of artists of diverse races, regions, sexualities, and religions. The adoption by women artists of the handcraft tradition had an unusually wide reach as the underlying economic need of women to carry the burden of unpaid domestic labor was universal across otherwise unbridgeable societal barriers.
The exhibition is also a mini-retrospective of the emergence of women artists in the 1960s and 1970s including important early examples of works by some of the feminist pioneers of the time. These include prototype plates for the Dinner Party series by Judy Chicago, Faith Ringgold soft sculptures from the 1970s, Yoko Ono’s video Cut Piece, Miriam Schapiro’s first fan painting, Harmony Hammond’s Bag VI from 1971, a variant of the Ford Foundation tapestry from 1967 by Sheila Hicks and a Jenny Holzer Truisms LED designed in 1976.
Even more remarkably, the historic women exhibited are rarely anonymous. Virtually all the artists exhibited (although not all) can be identified, at a minimum, by name and date and more commonly by history, painted portrait, photograph or Wikipedia page. Of note, work by two early First Ladies is included in this exhibition, a needlepoint cushion designed and executed by Martha Washington and an embroidered pin cushion made by tastemaker Dolley Madison. Madison’s pincushion, made from scraps of embroidered dress fabric, is placed in conversation with a Louise Bourgeois head, also made from scraps of fabric. As much as possible, we chose historic pieces that had some documentable presence of the artist to dispel the myth that these works were always created by housewives in anonymity and to amplify that these works were always seen as important, valued, and saved.
One of the outcomes of the side-by-side display of historic and contemporary is the domestically-scaled size of many of the objects displayed. Unlike many exhibitions of contemporary art, in which outsized size is the norm, most of the pieces in this exhibit are small, personal, and relatable. The contemporary and historic pieces are often the same sizes. Perhaps this is also a reflection of the gendered spirit imbued in these pieces, that their domestically-scaled size eschews a male emphasis on enormity that has become the norm for contemporary art.
The New York Times piece by Laurel Graeber about Women’s Work exhibition: