We are so proud to time our exhibition of Miriam Schapiro’s art from 1962 -2008 with the huge celebration of Southern California art sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Trust. No artist has had more to do with the feminist art revolution that was initiated at CalArts in 1971 than Miriam Schapiro.
After joining the new California Institute of the Arts in Valencia as the first female faculty member, Schapiro met Judy Chicago. She visited Chicago’s class for women artists at Fresno State College and also met women artists in Southern California. What she realized was that women were not working in studios as did the artists of New York. They painted in their kitchens, dining rooms or any other spaces available in their homes. She decided to invite Judy Chicago to team-teach a class for women artists. In 1971 they founded the Feminist Art Program as part of CalArts, the first art program of its kind. Their goal was to encourage women to create art utilizing their own lives and fantasies for inspiration. They taught women to connect to their own creativity and to that of women of the past. Chicago and Schapiro created the famed “Womanhouse” for which Schapiro created the “Dollhouse.”
Our exhibition traces a mini autobiographical route through Schapiro’s art. Outstanding is the famous “Big OX” 1967, which she said was inspired by the thought of a large, imposing sense of landscape coming toward the viewer and inviting him to become part of it. It could actually be viewed as Miriam’s first feminist painting. The letter O is superimposed on the X in very feminine pink and apricot hues, and the geometry hardly masks a sexual connotation. The “Shrine for Two Paint Tubes” 1962, is historic and equally symbolic. Miriam considered her “Shrines” to be her first autobiographical works and they were all in a phallic motif. She was dealing with her need to bring together her male and female personas. Miriam began to layer “femmages,” a term she coined, as a “container for her feelings.” In these works she incorporated the female icons, the apron, doilies, curtains, hearts, the fans, the house and more. Included in our exhibit is “Curtains” 1972, her first femmage. It was her first painting with fabric glued to canvas, and caused her great concern. She had crossed a threshold and knew questions would be raised as to whether the work could be considered ‘high art.’ Also we are showing “Lady Gengi’s Maze,” 1972. She called it an empty garden. On a rigid geometry she leads us up to unfinished rooms and floats a femmage of fabrics designed to elevate women’s preoccupations. Included, too, are paintings from the 1980s to 2008 important to Mimi’s creative portfolio. “Gates of Paradise” of 1980, “Presenting Eden” 1990, and “Miriam’s Life with Dolls” 2006, are just a few.
Miriam Schapiro lectured throughout the country in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s to university classes, in museums and artists’ studios, speaking about her art, about feminism, and the art of women of the past. After an enormous struggle she had found the way for herself, but she was also an inspiration to countless other feminist artists. Surely she must be acknowledged as a feminist visionary. She leaves an artistic legacy that will occupy a considerable place in 20th century history.