Modern Women / Modern Vision explores history, feminism and expression through photography

How women have contributed to and influenced the field of photography throughout the 20th century is no small subject to tackle, let alone organize into a comprehensive exhibit. But the Denver Art Museum Modern Women / Modern Vision: Works from the Bank of America Collectionexhibited from Sunday May 1 to August 28, offers a beautiful intertwining of parallel stories: the evolution of photography as an artistic medium, the social and political changes that have taken place over the course of a century, and the women behind the cameras who have been documenting, reacting and commenting on everything.

On loan to the Denver Art Museum through the Bank of America Art in Our Communities® programme, this collection presents more than 100 photographs by around fifty women photographers whose works span from 1905 to 2016. ‘art. said Raju Patel, president of the Bank of America Denver market. Although the exhibit was originally created by Bank of America curatorial staff, each museum it visits has its own creative freedom in layout, gallery graphics, and overall vision. of the exhibition.

“These are all really important photographs taken by people who were eminent in the field at the time they took these photos,” says Eric Paddock, curator of photography at DAM. He and senior curatorial assistant Kimberly Roberts led the unique version of the DAM exhibit with the exhibit designer Tom Fricker. And they have created a continuous journey through this impressive collection, connecting many photographers and their work to each other, whether chronologically, thematically or conceptually.

“Throughout the show, I think there will be a lot of very recognizable well-known names,” Roberts says, “But then mixed in with that, there are a lot of women whose people maybe weren’t- be unaware.” This is perhaps the show’s most compelling feature. It offers the opportunity not only to see many famous works by photographers such as Sandy Skoglund, Diane Arbus and Berenice Abbot (who also has a photo in the current DAM collection curious visions exhibition), but also to see their lesser-known contemporaries alongside them, allowing you to better understand specific periods and movements.

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“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange

Denver Art Museum

For example, one of the most iconic pieces you’ll see in the collection is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” (1936), which was widely circulated and reproduced throughout the century. “She’s extremely prominent,” Paddock says. “But we also have these two photos of Marion Post Wolcott, who was working for the same government agency, at the same time, in different parts of the country; and I just think they are magical, remarkable and powerful images. So there are surprises. »

Of these early works in the collection, Paddock notes: “These women embraced photography as a path to independence and economic freedom. But also in the way they used the camera, there is something innovative about the work of each of these people that had some influence on subsequent photography.

Many of these early pieces reflect the social and political consciousness of the photographers while also acting as a documentation of the times – a theme that also appears in the more modern works of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. “These are examples of photographers reacting to or playing with second-wave feminism,” Roberts says. “So these two [women’s works] are very inspired comments.”

Indeed, one of the most powerful sets of photos in the exhibition is that of Barbara Kruger Untitled (We will no longer be seen or heard) (1985), a series of nine consecutive panels using mass media imagery and typography, somewhat reminiscent of Warhol’s pop art, which comments on consumerism, advertising and the oppression of women. “She was really at the forefront of feminist artists,” Paddock says.

Another captivating collection is a series of six photos by Diane Arbus, including “Identical Twins” (1967) and “Mexican Dwarf in his Hotel Room” (1970). “I’m always very interested in seeing photos of Diane Arbus, and I’m more interested in seeing how people react to them,” Paddock says. “I think people tend to approach these photos with a smirk, and I find that the longer you look at them, the more attentively and open-mindedly you look at the people in the photos, the more the more pathos there is, the more empathy there is. … And I think they have a lot to tell us about what it is to be human and how to behave towards others who are not not like us.

There are also moments of beautiful co-evenness and synchronicity between women from the same region and era, such as the juxtaposition of six photos by Mexican photographers Graciela Iturbide, Mariana Yampolsky and Flor Garduño, who shared various relationships professional and educational relationships with each other throughout their careers. “There is a creative professional lineage going on there. They’re all independent, but there are a lot of interesting interconnections between the three women,” says Roberts. “It’s interesting to see these three artists exhibited together.”

Much of the exhibition explores the medium of photography as it has entered into the larger dialogue about art. “Whether it was painting, sculpture, performance, video,” Paddock says, “this work kind of inflected what artists in other mediums were doing and have done since.” These mid-century women were setting the stage for photography to continue to evolve, while drawing inspiration from their own predecessors.

Click to enlarge "Revenge of the Goldfish" by Sandy Skoglund - DENVER ART MUSEUM

Revenge of the Goldfish by Sandy Skoglund

Denver Art Museum

A beautiful illustration of this is a piece from Carol Espíndola’s series La Atlantida (o la utopia del cuerpo femenino) (Atlantis [or the utopia of the female body])created circa 2016. In it, Espíndola depicts Botticelli’s famous Renaissance painting “The Birth of Venus”, but replaces the figure of Venus with her own curved form, intentionally shielding herself from the proverbial male gaze.

“It’s a conceptual piece that talks about women’s bodies,” Roberts explains. “She’s done a whole slew of reimagining well-known works with her performance, sort of.” Through this concept-driven work, it is clear to see how earlier feminist photography of the 60s, 70s and 80s paved the way for modern artists such as Espíndola to continue exploring themes of gender, oppression and representation in today’s world. .

Among the contemporary works in this exhibition are also two photographs by Carrie Mae Weems: “After Manet” (2002) and “Untitled (Woman with Daughter)” (1990). The latter is part of a powerfully intimate series called Kitchen table seriesof which Roberts says, “It’s a kind of theater of human experience, of everyday life [and] the things that happen in a house around a kitchen table. It’s all kind of played out for the camera in this very familiar space, and so I think it’s a very relatable series.

The diversity of subjects, techniques and conceptual ideas we find in today’s photography collection is remarkable, and this exhibition tells how we got there. By Modern Women / Modern Visionit is clear to see how the profession of photography has grown, evolved and benefited from the many talented women who have embraced the medium over the past 100 years.

“I think it can be a real eye-opener for people,” Paddock concludes. “I hope they’ll discover the work of artists they haven’t known, and that they’ll discover ways of looking at things and ways of making photographs that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to imagine.

Modern Women / Modern Vision: Works from the Bank of America Collection, Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Sunday, May 1 through August 28. This exhibit will be included in general admission. For tickets and more information, visit Denver Art Museum website.

Stewart C. Hartline