"Bold and Fantastical: Women in Contemporary Sculpture" features six women artists whose three-dimensional works play with form and explore fantastical color and narrative. Highly recognized for their major sculptural works, Mimi Herbert, Joan Danziger, Nancy Graves, Louise Nevelson, Jenny Holzer and Cynthia Bickley find surprising and playful ways to disrupt the sculptural tradition, working with unexpected materials to create some of the most challenging and ambitious forms in contemporary sculpture.
Once considered the domain of male artists, female sculptors have been rare throughout art history, as women were not seen as physically capable of challenging labor such as carving marble or casting bronze. That changed in the last century as bold and pioneering women forged a place for themselves within the sculptural landscape, taking on the physicality of the sculptural process, blurring lines between craft and fine art, and destabilizing the idea that sculpture had to be made with “masculine” materials of stone or metal.
Mimi Herbert boldly folds, forms and stacks vibrantly-colored sheets of acrylic. Together, these stacked forms contrast and complement each other so that airy, soft curves are at odds with the true hard texture of acrylic. Herbert’s whimsical titles such as Kimono, Ocean Bloom, and Pink Fling display the playfulness of her practice and her forms.
Nancy Graves and Joan Danziger have created whimsical and colorful sculptures exploring play. Danziger’s fantastical sculptures invoke animals, nature, and mythology. Large- and small-scale animals, such as horses and beetles, are captured in action-filled poses, frozen moments of drama, evoking alternatively playfulness, exhilaration, danger, or other intense emotion. Further from the representational, Graves used playful shapes, such as spirals and squiggles, seemingly splashed with paint, to create unexpected, seemingly precarious, forms. Louise Nevelson's wood sculptures cut bold, often all black, silhouettes of carefully arranged geometric shapes. Her puzzle-like sculptures can be whimsical or mysterious, inviting us to consider what secrets they hold within.
Disrupting the expectations of form with electronic LED signs of scrolling text, Jenny Holzer is one of the most notable names in contemporary art. Her signs are simultaneously three dimensional and two dimensional, focusing on language or truisms as a means of expression in visual artwork. Holzer challenges the definition of sculpture, both revising and continuing the conversation about the role of the artist’s hand in creating artwork.
Cynthia Bickley has used unconventional materials associated with craft that challenge what can be considered “fine art.” Her 1968 sculpture Bow Perch used silk, an uncommon medium in sculpture at the time. To Bickley, her use of “the dyed silk was intended to represent a feminist take on the presentation of color as an expressive medium.” Bickley recreated the sculpture in 2022 as Bow Perch D.E.I., a “visual celebration of the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion in America.”
Using cutting-edge material—from steel, wood, resin, and silk to digital screens–each of these bold women artists push boundaries, asking the viewer to redefine and reinterpret our concept of contemporary sculptural form.