Crossing the Bridge Emblem

Steinbaum’s Bio

Miriam Schapiro

Women and the Millennium

Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 4, 1998. All rights reserved.

Crossing the Arts Threshold

What are the advantages of being a woman artist? "Working

without the pressure of success," say New York’s Guerrilla Girls.

Then there’s "not having to be in shows with men," and that

special benefit of "not having to undergo the embarrassment of

being called a genius."

These are old jokes, perhaps getting a little tired after all these

years. But art dealer and curator Bernice Steinbaum reminds us that

they all still apply.

At the College of New Jersey, Steinbaum’s exhibit of contemporary

women artists, "Crossing the Threshold," is part of a Women’s

History Month celebration that places the art market’s notorious gender

gap under scrutiny once again. The touring show originated at the

Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York which Steinbaum directs. The

CNJ stop is part of a national tour to colleges and museums from upstate

New York to Jackson, Mississippi, to Laramie, Wyoming, with its final

opening in Sioux City, Iowa, set for March, 2001.

Steinbaum opens the exhibition with a lecture, "Have You Come

a Long Way, Baby?" on Wednesday, March 4, at 3 p.m. Miriam Schapiro

continues the month-long series with "A Life in Art," on Wednesday,

March 11, at 2 p.m. The show remains on exhibit to April 15.

"Crossing the Threshold" features 31 women artists, some well-known

and some little-known. In an unusual curatorial move, every one of

these artists was born before 1929. The age span runs from a mere

70 years of age to the "elder stateswoman" of the show, the

105-year-old ceramic artist Beatrice Wood. It encompasses works by

some of the titans of 20th century who broke through the gender barrier:

Miriam Schapiro, Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan,

Louise Bourgeois, Leonora Carrington, Muriel Castanis, and Beverly

Pepper. To name a few.

Printmaker June Wayne, the founder and operator of two

of the nation’s most influential lithography workshops, is also included.

So are some lesser-known women who have worked throughout their long

lifetimes with only minimal recognition and scant remuneration. They

include two New Mexico-born weavers, Eppie Archuleta and Agueda Martinez,

and Navajo weaver Elise Tsosie Sandoval. There’s basketmaker Mary

Adams, photographer Gladys Lander, and noted ceramic artist Toshiko

Takaezu, a retiree from the faculty of Princeton University.

"Sometimes I think I’m a museum, but I’m a gallery," says

the exuberant Steinbaum in a phone interview from her SoHo gallery.

Possible proof of this is the show’s accompanying catalog, a resource

book about all 31 represented artists. Trinkett Clark, curator of

the Swan Coach House Gallery in Atlanta, interviewed each artist and

provides a cogent and illuminating sketch of each.

The collaborative effort was a year in the making and labor intensive,

says Steinbaum. "Although at times leaping off a cliff seemed

easier than what we were doing, we realized that our journey together

would produce this exhibition and this catalog. The 31 artists were

the strings of our parachutes," she says.

"I do group shows once every two years and send them on museum

travel. I can do such shows less expensively than individual institutions

and with a lot of verve and enthusiasm, and it’s my philosophy that

one has to put back into the art community. Art is about exchange,

and this is a form of exchange. So for the 11 good months in the gallery,

I give back one month a year."

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Crossing the Bridge Emblem

The emblem selected for the show is a bridge, or as Steinbaum calls

it, an "extended threshold." "A threshold by definition

is a time interval or set of circumstances marking the imminent beginning

of a new state," she says. "The 31 women in this exhibition

have crossed the threshold (bridge) into the next millennium. To say

nothing of the number of bridges they burned behind them."

The selection of 31 artists is also an homage of sorts to the influential

art dealer Peggy Guggenheim and her unprecedented 1943 exhibition

of works by 31 women artists at her Art of This Century Gallery in

New York.

Steinbaum originally titled the show, "Crossing the Threshold

with Thelma and Louise," an allusion to the two fictional women

of the movie of the same name who, when last seen, were going over

the edge of the Grand Canyon, headed to oblivion in an American convertible.

Why did Steinbaum pick Thelma and Louise as the metaphorical "jumping

off point" for her show?

"I was taken with the idea that Thelma and Louise dared to go

against the establishment. I thought that Thelma and Louise represented

the kinds of women that these women are — pioneers who had to

give up a great deal for their passion," says Steinbaum.

Yet more than a few colleges and museums interested in exhibiting

the work found Steinbaum’s reference to the 1991 road movie "upsetting,"

she explains. Written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott,

starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, the movie shows fugitives

on the run and glorifies escape from quotidian responsibilities. These

institutions (the College of New Jersey was not among them) deemed

Thelma and Louise poor role models for young women. Others might argue

that the movie kills off these rebellious women just as western theater

and opera has traditionally killed off such transgressors as Carmen,

Lucia, Mimi, Violetta, et al.

"They thought they represented lawlessness and were not suitable,"

she says. Rather than becoming embroiled in the politics of the situation,

Steinbaum withdrew from the field of battle and abbreviated her original

title to "Crossing the Threshold."

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Steinbaum’s Bio

Steinbaum, 54, married at 18, and has stayed married for 37 years.

Her husband, Harold Steinbaum, is in family practice medicine ("He

still makes house calls," she notes), and they are the parents

of three "over-achievers:" a son, 30, physician; and two daughters,

28 and 26, an attorney, and a landscape architect. In the early years

of her marriage she followed her husband’s career, teaching in public

schools in Iowa and Texas. She later taught art history at Hofstra

University.

Founding her first gallery, the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, in the

late 1970s, Steinbaum has always represented equal numbers of women

and men. "She was P.C. before P.C. was coined as a term,"

says her registrar Joanne Isaac, "but this isn’t about numbers,

it’s about representing the best artists." Isaac also notes that

African American, Asian, and Latino artists represent more than 35

percent of the artists in the gallery stable.

The fact that the show excludes artists under 70 will

come as a surprise to many. Although Schapiro is more famous than

the Guerrilla Girls for her career-long feminist efforts, many of

these artists have labored far removed from the gender politics arena.

"It occurred to me that 70 would be a good cutoff, it’s past the

age of retirement for most — but none of these women have retired.

All of them are working. Their creative juices have not stopped flowing."

"The work of these artists has an originality and buoyancy that

belies the fact that they are venerable pioneers of American art,"

says Steinbaum. "These artists engage the world as though it has

been seen for the first time — each moment in their art is a fresh

start."

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Miriam Schapiro

Schapiro has been a pioneer, not only in feminist art, but in a movement

known as Pattern and Decoration, when she quite literally sought to

restore to high-art status women’s art-making traditions.

Her "Femmage" works, her signature collages, have helped to

earn her laurels in the feminist pantheon. Working with the humble

materials that women have always found close at hand — tea towels,

hankies, calico, and tatting — she reconfigures her materials

into powerful, and beautiful, art statements.

On Wednesday, March 11, at 2 p.m. Schapiro presents a talk, "A

Life in Art," chronicling her contributions to art and feminist

culture since the 1950s.

"I think my struggles were human struggles in the sense that I

struggled incredibly for my identity," Schapiro tells interviewer

Clarke. "What I am trying to do is to make a series of images

for the world which show that you can be tortured and triumphant at

the same time. My work is about women, for women, and for everyone

else. My motivation is — as a woman — to express what I feel

has not been expressed enough in art."

As far as suffering from a sexist society, Schapiro says it didn’t

happen to her until she married. As the wife of the artist Paul Brach,

she says, she became known as "the gifted Mrs. Brach. And then

we were known as `The Brachs.’ But I wanted my own name."

If there’s an art to living, one of the artists speaks for many women

when she reflects on how she pursued her career while married and

raising two children in the early 1940s.

"I had to organize my days carefully in order to work in the studio

each day," says Clare Romano, looking back 50 years. "This

was realized with tremendous self-discipline, determining priorities,

and having a sympathetic, cooperative husband . . . Not easy, but

it was a life I had chosen, and coping with its complexities was a

creative challenge in itself."

The show’s December opening in New York, attended by 18 of the senior

artists, was "a little piece of art history that I had just for

myself," says Steinbaum. Parenthetically she notes that if the

viewer notices any glaring absences among senior women artists who

might have been included in such a touring show, these are women artists

who declined to participate in an exclusively "women’s only"

show. Even in the context of the long-running gender debates, such

shows still suggest "ghetto-ization" to some.

Yet Steinbaum’s show is not simply about gender, but

also about the "signs of the times." It posits the possibility

that the third millennium could finally represent the woman’s millennium.

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Women and the Millennium

With the millennium approaching, Steinbaum asked herself, "What

are the benchmarks of the last millennium?" She answers her own

question with three benchmarks: the computer, antibiotics and the

Salk vaccine, and women.

"Certainly one has to look at women in the 20th century. where

we’ve been and where we’ve come from. We got the vote in 1920 —

given that information, in 80 years we’ve come some way. With turbulence

comes change. A lot of barriers were broken."

At 54, Steinbaum has been in business for 20 years, and has developed

a significant reputation for showing and selling work by women. Does

she believe that, compared to the grim 1970s, these are gravy days

for the women artist?

"Certainly the women who have gallery representation are being

acquired a great deal more than their male counterparts who have had

representation forever," says Steinbaum. Yet she says that gallery

representation for men still exceeds women’s by a factor of ten to

one. So while her show looks forward to better times for women, it

also looks back on a generation that had scant expectation for glory.

"You can’t have any tomorrow unless you remember your yesterdays.

Many of these women discovered the wheel for us. They didn’t know

what else to do with their creative energy. They worked at kitchen

tables using materials that were inexpensive and readily available,"

she says.

"These are women who continued their passion to make art at a

time when art was not an art business. When an artist did not have

to fight for a cover. Their passions were so strong, it didn’t matter

whether they earned a living. They had to make their mark. Some of

them never had a dealer. All of them continued to work in spite of

that."

Even in centuries past when some women did win fame and fortune in

art, it was usually with the approval of a father, brother, or husband

in the business. "We never truly enjoyed our place," says

Steinbaum. "Even [the successful 17th-century painter] Artemisia

Gentileschi was only accepted under her father’s name. But I do think

that most of these women did not have the expectations of young artists

today. Art was about their passion. I think an artist has to be obsessive,

have passion, and have ideas."

Verve and vitality — qualities Steinbaum has in abundance —

are also hallmarks of her artists, she says. "They all wanted

me to come to their studios and select a work," but since time

did not permit 30-some studio visits, she asked the artists to select

their best work — work that they would allow to travel for two

or three years.

"But I haven’t done my best work yet!" was a reply she received

from one artist after another. It was a definite trend. "It’s

such a wonderful attitude," she says.

Crossing the Threshold, College of New Jersey, Art

Gallery, Holman Hall, 609-771-2198. Curator Bernice Steinbaum opens

the exhibition with the lecture, "Have You Come a Long Way, Baby?"

on Wednesday, March 4 at 3 p.m. Free.

Opening reception is Wednesday, March 11, 5 to 7 p.m., for the exhibition

that continues to April 15. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday,

noon to 3 p.m.; also Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m.

Three talks in conjunction with the show take place in College

of New Jersey’s Forcina Hall, Room 132. For lecture information call

609-771-2539.

Miriam Schapiro, "A Life in Art," Wednesday, March

11, 2 p.m. Muriel Castanis, "Making Art Out of Whole Cloth."

Wednesday, March 25, 2 p.m. Carrie Mae Weems, "Daring to

Resist," Thursday, March 26, 3:30 p.m. The final talk, by art

historian Annie Shaver-Crandell, "What’s Doing in New York

City: Women in Art," is in Brower Student Center, Room 202E, Monday,

March 30, 3:30 p.m.


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