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Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida spotlights prints by American women
Elizabeth Murray (American, born 1940), Kid (2003). Monotype on paper. Museum Purchase with funds donated by Martha and Jim Sweeny.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.- Contemporary Prints by American Women: A Selection from the Gift of Martha and Jim Sweeny features approximately 30 prints from this growing collection of more than 60. The group of artists reads like a “Who’s Who in American Art,” but the selection is more than a gathering of illustrious names. These are often signature works and reveal the MFA’s commitment to the art of our time. The vast majority of these artists remain at the forefront, still pushing boundaries.

This impressive introduction to the collection is on view from September 8, 2012-February 2, 2013.

This collection and exhibition would not be possible without Martha and Jim Sweeny, who have made an enormous difference in the life of the Museum. They formed an impressive collection of post-1950 art, including works by contemporary self-taught artists. As this exhibition indicates, they have also developed a special interest in prints by American women.

Add the influence of Hazel and William Hough Chief Curator Jennifer Hardin, a champion of American art. She encouraged the Sweenys to consider giving many of these works to the Museum. They have also provided funds to acquire others. The Sweenys’ support for the collection continues.

This fascinating installation features works by many of America’s most gifted artists: Vija Celmins, Louisa Chase, Helen Frankenthaler, Nancy Graves, Elaine de Kooning, Yvonne Jacquette, Lois Lane, Sylvia Mangold, Georgia Marsh, Joan Mitchell, Elizabeth Murray, Louise Nevelson, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Susan Rothenberg, Betye Saar, Joan Snyder, and Pat Steir, among others.

Prints of historical and artistic value define this collection and many of the prints are large-scale. Joan Mitchell’s Flower I (1981), made at Tyler Graphics, reveals her lifelong connection to the spirit of Abstract Expressionism. She was one of the few women who showed with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and the other male titans who could be terribly chauvinistic.

Pat Steir is especially known for her paintings and prints of waterfalls, which she tends to treat freely and abstractly. Her painterly print Peacock Waterfall (2001) is the largest work in the exhibition, measuring almost five feet high and saturated with rich color.

Three are by distinguished African American artists. Betye Saar’s Return to Dreamland (1990) incorporates mythic imagery from the realm of the subconscious. Howardena Pindell’s Flight/Fields (1989) was inspired by the great tradition of African American quilts, kept alive by women chiefly from the South. Faith Ringgold’s Under a Blood Red Sky (2000) conveys the plight—and courage—of slaves and by extension, other oppressed people seeking freedom.

Louise Nevelson was herself an artistic titan. Her Sky Gate I (1982), a cast paper relief on handmade gray paper, suggests one of her classic, intricate wall sculptures. Where Sylvia Mangold’s The Locust Trees (1988) is subtle and poetic, Elizabeth Murray’s Kid (2003) and Louise Chase’s untitled color lithograph (1991) are boldly colorful. Lesley Dill’s multi-layered I See Visions (2004) is well, visionary.

American women have enlivened, deepened, and at times transformed the print tradition. The Sweenys have taken the MFA on an exciting new journey.

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