In the Womb of a California Treasure
By Robin Johnson
Inspired by an astounding collection of works by female artists, and motivated to supply the community with an in-depth female-based perspective of the Riverside Art Museum’s permanent collection, an exhibit of substantial significance emerged—“Women Artists of the Permanent Collection: Mid Nineteenth Century to Present Day.”
A constant source of support for the community and local arts in the Inland Empire, Ray Miller, past Director at RAM was often heard saying “women and children first.” Given the museum’s history and its strong community-oriented principles, it’s no surprise an exhibition of this substance should evolve today. Spanning the course of 145 years, this show surveys important local, national, and international female artists, while contextualizing their work through a wide historical lens.
Housed in the womb of a California treasure, few may be aware of the Riverside Art Museum’s architectural and historical significance. Previously a YWCA building for 40 years, the museums original structure was designed by California’s first licensed female architect, Julia Morgan in 1929. Morgan was also the architect of Hearst Castle in San Simeon and Mills College in Oakland. With such a rich historical legacy, the RAM structure itself proves a hotbed of feminine achievement and an ideal local to showcase such a revelatory exhibit.
This exhibition showcases artworks created by an intensely diverse group of women; ranging from a 19th century English children’s book illustrator, a Parisian avant-garde pastel artist part of Picasso’s inner circle and once commissioned by Coco Chanel, LA based Chicana and 80s punk-based artists, to relevant contemporary conceptual, digital sound and performance artists. Through RAM’s permanent collection, a diversified and expressive view of the feminine response to gender, identity, culture, religion, and politics over the past century and a half emerges. This show quickly brings awareness that in the face of a still persistent male-dominated art world, these women can clearly stand their own. Furthermore, the show dispels any myths or presumptions surrounding works created by women, or any expected roles of the female artist, proving how courageous, adventurous and persistent women truly are.
Highlighting a mere fragment of this show are works by artists shown in numerous major museums and galleries throughout the world, such as artist Violet Oakley. Active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and known for her political views on equality and social justice, this American artist was the first woman to be commissioned for a public mural. Also on view are works by Southern California natives, Patssi Valdez and Diane Gamboa who recently took part in a retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Asco: Elite of the Obscure. Both artists worked as central members of the performance group ASCO, an East LA based Chicano artist collective whose work focused on the political and socio-economic issues facing the community throughout the 1970s and 80s. Gamboa formed her art career documenting the early 80s East LA punk rock movement, while Valdez describes her vibrant and culturally charged work as such, “My paintings portray an actual and/or imagined place that depicts an inspirational or emotionally charged feeling or experience. They are snippets of environments that I consider meaningful and symbolic of my individual as well as collective Chicano experience.”
Contextualizing the creative process are works by one of the most well recognized female German expressionist artists Käthe Kallowitz, and one of her students, an acknowledged Leonardo da Vinici scholar and painter-photographer, Kate Stienitz. This generational duo provide an enriching relation between artist mentorships and the by-product of works and movements they ultimately influence and inspire.
The exhibition mounts over 40 local and international artists. These artworks have been condensed into a powerful show highlighting the accomplishments of some of the most successful female artists in the art world, while showcasing the varied developments and ambitions of women over the past 145 years. Curated by RAM’s youngest and notably female curator, Kathryn Poindexter leads us on a compelling tour of the feminine and not-so-feminine sensibilities of some of the world’s most prominent female artists.
“Women Artists of the Permanent Collection: Mid Nineteenth Century to Present Day” at Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; www.riversideartmusuem.org. Through April 21.