- Spanish Dancer 1916, Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881-1962), Gift of Robert L. B. Tobin
A friend recently asked me to consider whether women are truly happier today, when they have so many more (bewildering) choices, than they were 100 years ago. A Room of One’s Own provides one kind of answer; this exhibit is another. Whether you define happiness as productivity, contentment, or in some other fashion, it’s hard to imagine a more cognitively miserable existence than to be an artist relegated to the supporting sidelines as a condition of birth. The corollary is a world that would be impoverished without the contributions of seminal American painters Georgia O’Keeffe and Joan Mitchell, supreme organic sculptor Barbara Hepworth, powerful Russian painter and theater designer Natalia Gontcharova, and artist Louise Nevelson, all of whose work (and more!) is on view in Neither Model Nor Muse at the McNay, a museum founded by a woman with a great eye. This group show draws from all of the museum’s major collections, demonstrating not only how women have mastered multiple mediums, but, says Chief Curator Rene Barilleaux, how their work evolved from an emphasis on applied arts to the major movements over the course of the 20th century. “As the century progresses, more women go to art school, and start to compete with men in terms of art-making,” Barilleaux says, producing in, e.g., Mitchell’s case, some “big, tough, large, aggressive paintings.” But don’t go expecting a didactic lecture. “It’s about visual pleasure, whether it’s theater design or an easel painting.” The museum’s curators talk about their favorite pieces at a free public lecture, 6:30pm, June 17. Through Sep 12, McNay Art Museum, mcnayart.org.