Late-Career Female Artists Recognized Across America

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In The benefits of being a female artist (1988), the feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls satirized the advantages women enjoy in the art world over their male contemporaries. Number four on the list of 13 items was: “Knowing your career could pick up after eighty.”

Historically, the recognition of female artists has lagged decades behind what their work has rightfully earned and what men in the field receive. In the United States, many late-career women are receiving institutional recognition, some for the first time.

Shirley Woodson (b. 1936) at the Detroit Institute of Art and Jean LaMarr (b. 1945) at the Nevada Museum of Art have previously been reviewed on Forbes.com. The retrospective of Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) at the New Museum in New York has become one of the city’s most popular tickets. The diverse output of Mary Frank (b. 1933) through sculpture, painting, prints and photography dazzles.

To these add Jean Connor (b. 1933), Bridget Riley (b. 1931) and Mira Lehr (b. 1936).

John Connor

From May 6 to September 25, 2022, the San José Museum of Art presents the first solo museum exhibition for San Francisco-based Conner. “Jean Conner: Collage” will feature collages from the 1950s to the present day and highlight Conner’s whimsical imagination and clever critiques of media representations of women, war and the environment.

Does the artist have resentment in the face of this recognition, which arrived so late in her career?

“No joy wasted. It’s better that way,” Connor told Forbes.com. “I don’t feel like I’ve ever had much of a career.”

Don’t be fooled by Connor’s modesty.

She has produced work steadily for 60 years with recent acquisitions by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her career had, however, been largely private, mostly withholding her work from public view, allowing her husband Bruce’s career to take center stage – a common theme among female artists.

Jean Connor is now in the spotlight as audiences are finally exposed to her explorations of mysticism and the power of nature as well as notions of female beauty and gender norms. She does this through collage, which has represented the majority of her output since moving to San Francisco in 1957.

Conner’s early collages include newsprint and paint in abstract compositions. His approach to creating art from everyday objects and images resonated with the culture around him: the artists of the Beat Generation in San Francisco who adopted a philosophy of experimentation and rebelled against traditional artistic practices and economic materialism. Resourceful and unconventional, these artists practiced assemblage through various mediums such as photography and sculpture.

In 1960, she almost exclusively used color magazines. She would create seductive and humorous scenes from images cut from broadsheet periodicals, exploring the aspirations and fears of modern post-war life as reflected in publications such as “Life Magazine” and “Ladies’ Home Journal.”

Colorful and bizarre, the works on display in the exhibition include rarely seen material from the Conner Family Trust, new acquisitions by SJMA, and works from public museums and private collections.

Brigitte Riley

On view until July 24 at the Yale Center for British Art, “Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction” represents the largest survey of Riley’s work in the United States in twenty years. She is no stranger to the spotlight of the art world.

Riley became an international sensation in the 1960s with her distinctive black and white paintings, their rhythmic lines and curves seeming to vibrate on the canvas. She was a mainstay of the Op art (optical art) movement.

In 1965, the British artist made his American debut with a sold-out exhibition and a prominent place in the Museum of Modern Art’s influential op art exhibition, “The Responsive Eye”. One of his paintings was used for the catalog cover.

In 1968, she became the first woman to win the painting prize at the Venice Biennale.

Her distinctive vision has crossed over into popular culture, often in the form of unauthorized knockoffs of her designs in fashion. When she added color to her unique and fascinating use of line later in the 60s, her fame grew even further.

Over a career spanning seven decades, Riley has used color, line, and geometric pattern to explore the dynamic nature of visual perception in paintings, drawings, and serigraphs.

“No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley,” art critic Robert Melville said in 1971.

She did this by relying on deceptively simple shapes to startling effect.

Riley’s work has always been particularly rigorous and disciplined. The artist maintains this perspective even today.

“My studio practice has remained consistent, so in that sense it’s very little different from what it was when I started, except maybe in terms of scale, but not intimacy,” a- she told Forbes.com. “I don’t think in terms of inspiration, I think in terms of working and continuing to work. I am as objective as I can be, remembering what (Georges) Braque said about the importance of objectivity for the painter because, as he said, “what we do as that painters is necessarily so subjective”. It is imperative that I discover as precisely as possible what I feel and see, and act accordingly.

The work exhibited in ‘Perceptual Abstraction’ has been selected by the artist, offering an in-depth examination of his iconic monochrome paintings of the 1960s as well as the full range of his later color works.

Mira Lehr

Mira Lehr has been dubbed Miami’s godmother of art. She co-founded one of the first collectives of American female artists, Continuum, in Miami in 1961. It flourished for more than 30 years. His vision to revive the local art scene influenced the evolution of visual arts in Miami to the point that the city is now globally recognized as a must-visit destination for contemporary art.

To recognize her contributions, the Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami presents “Mira Lehr: Continuum”, on view until April 20and within 16 of the hoteland floor gallery space. This presentation is not just a throwback, Lehr is creating more new work than ever. The hotel will exclusively display works created in 2021 and 2022 that have never been exhibited before. “Eco-feminist” long before this nickname was common, Lehr’s nature-based work encompassed painting, sculpture and video incorporating non-traditional media such as gunpowder, fire, wicks, Japanese paper, dyes and welded steel.

In the 1950s, Lehr studied and worked in New York where she met some of the most prominent avant-garde painters including: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.

in 1960, she moved her family back to Miami Beach, recalling “I was shocked at the lack of an art scene in Miami in 1960, especially for female artists. We decided to take matters into our own hands and brought together our group of female artists to form Continuum as a work cooperative to showcase female artists when no one else would.

Have the gender biases that Lehr and his contemporaries faced in the art world improved?

“I can say that not only gender equality but also racial equity has improved a lot,” Jean Connor said. “I wonder if it will last.”

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