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This is a reprise of a theme I have written about here before, but I can’t not revisit it again after having recently seen vibrant, extraordinary shows by women artists in their 70’s and 80’s. Many women artists who were shorted on the visibility and acknowledgements granted their male peers are making up for lost time. What’s more, they are still working and evolving, their shows full of fresh and lively explorations. (For more on this theme see my post, So Chic After All These Years, and an article in the Financial Times, In Praise of Older Women by Jackie Wullschlager.)

The current show of work by Lee Bontecou at Freedman Gallery continues the themes that spellbound so many of us back in 2004 when the Hammer Museum and MoMA QNS hosted a long-awaited retrospective of Bontecou’s work. She’s 80 years old now and going strong, still moving from playful sculptural forms (including two imaginative sandbox assemblages) to those meticulous and breathtakingly beautiful drawings. Everybody loves Lee Bontecou. With good reason. She deserves every accolade she is getting, arriving so late in a lifelong career.

Betty Woodman, also in her 80s, is another who has labored long and tirelessly. Married to artist George Woodman (who at one point was her ceramic student!) and mother to artist Francesca Woodman (whose current show at the SFMOMA knocked me out), Betty has been blowing out her particular blend of ceramics and painting for a long time. The show now on view at Salon 94 on the Bowery is wildly enchanting. It feels particularly celebratory, exuberant and life affirming. Woodman’s aesthetic feels ageless.

Pat Hickman‘s show at the University Art Museum (at U Mass Dartmouth’s New Bedford location), curated by my friend Lasse Antonsen, is a feast of texture and tacticity. I am new to her work and must thank Marcia Goodwin for encouraging me to catch the show before it closes on January 27.

On a similar theme: Like many of my female artist friends, we do The Count when visiting the contemporary collections on view at museums. How many women artists are on display? The Met score is improving. I know, it is slow progress. But on my last walk through there were works up by Jenny Saville, Susan Rothenberg, Ellen Gallagher, Kusama, Pat Steir, Bridget Riley, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Liza Lou.

Installation view of the Lee Bontecou show at the Freedman Gallery, New York

The Bontecou show includes two of these sandbox assemblages. Delicious and enchanting.

Drawing by Bontecou. (Sorry for the interference reflection.)

Betty Woodman installation at Salon 94, New York

Another view of the Woodman show

Woodman’s work captures a Mediterranean spirit (which given a home in Florence is no surprise)

Pat Hickman installation, New Bedford

Hickman’s transcendent organicism

Close up of the surface of Hickman’s hinged gate


Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

A few highlights from a day spent at the San Francisco Museum of Art, a visit that followed the feast that was Pacific Standard Time in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving…

Francesca Woodman‘s life was a short one. The daughter of two visual artists, her precocious gifts were apparent early on. She attended RISD, did a residency at the McDowell Colony in Peterborough New Hampshire. She committed suicide in 1981 at the age of 22.

Thirty years later, Woodman’s work is still timelessly haunting, deeply personal, darkly envisioned but not without moments of light and a redemptive glimmer. Most of the images are self portraits of some kind. Her body is her highly plastic terrain, creating landscapes of skin and flesh that are exploratory, not exploitative, direct and yet hidden.

The show is enormous and yet I felt drawn to spend time with every image. Her work has that kind of mystery and intrigue. I’m generally not a photohound but this was work so painterly and distinct it was hard to not give it your full attention.

Her parents, George and Betty Woodman, have been careful stewards of Woodman’s body of work all these years. They waited for just the right venue and opportunity for Francesca’s first retrospective.

Further reading: Ted Loos has written an excellent article in the New York Times that provides a good overview on Francesca and the show.

Francesca Woodman, Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–78; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, ca. 1976; gelatin silver print; collection of Susan Turner and Scott Purdin; © George and Betty Woodman

A few other viewing highlights:

Richard Serra

The Richard Serra drawing show that was at the Met this summer is now at SFMOMA. They look different in every venue. Some of these are exquisite and are reminiscent of those gorgeous overworked drawings by Brice Marden in his MOMA retrospective from a few years ago. Others feel less enchanting but the statement being made is a big one. This is, after all, Richard Fucking Serra.

A quote from Dieter Rams.

SFMOMA does a lot of design shows, and the latest features the iconic head of design at Braun for many years, Dieter Rams. Rams is associated with a variety of iconic pieces and is known for his memorable edicts, most famously his advocacy for “less but better” design.

Richard Aldrich, Untitled, 2008; oil and wax on panel; 11 1/2 x 9 in.; private collection, New York; © Richard Aldrich.

Richard Aldrich, a young artist from Brooklyn, has a room of new paintings. The work is open, fresh, painterly and smart. He’s someone I will be keeping track of from here on.

The ever playful Eric Hundley

Close up view of the Hundley

Rosana Castrillo Diaz’s exquisite hallway mural

Diaz close up. This piece is dazzling in the sunshine.

Rosana Castrillo Diaz is a fabulous artist who moved to the Bay Area from Spain. She’s another I’ll be tracking. Her work is subtle, lush, minimalist and yet expressive.

Ray Saunders

Ray Saunders was a prominent influence on me during my formative years in the Bay Area. In the small circling way of art thermals, my son studied with him at CCA a few years ago.