The Sister Chapel, a historic collaborative installation created at the height of the womens art movement, opens at Rowan University Art Gallery West
on March 31, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., for its first public exhibition since 1980. Presented during National Womens History Month, the exhibition runs from March 28 through the end of June. It includes the work of Alice Neel, June Blum, Betty Holliday, Shirley Gorelick, May Stevens, Elsa M. Goldsmith, Sylvia Sleigh, Cynthia Mailman, Diana Kurz, Martha Edelheit, Sharon Wybrants, Maureen Connor, and Ilise Greenstein.
An opening reception features a panel discussion with five of the contributing artists: Maureen Connor, Martha Edelheit, Diana Kurz, Cynthia Mailman, and Sharon Wybrants. The moderator, Andrew D. Hottle, spent eight years researching and writing an extensive history of this important collaboration.
To house the monumental figure paintings that comprise The Sister Chapel, Maureen Connor designed a twelve-sided fabric structure that was never constructed. To commemorate the return of this historic collaboration, an enclosure based on Connors original design has been fabricated so that, for the first time in its history, The Sister Chapel is exhibited as its creators intended.
Conceived by Ilise Greenstein in 1974 and first exhibited in 1978, The Sister Chapel embraced the cooperative spirit of the womens art movement. Using a nominal pun on Michelangelos famous Sistine Chapel ceiling, Greenstein issued a feminist challenge to the patriarchal conceptualization of history. In contrast to her male predecessor, she envisioned a nonhierarchical, secular commemoration of female role models from a female perspective; thus, The Sister Chapel invited viewers to reconsider familiar and often unconscious presumptions about gender roles and womens achievements.
Between 1974 and 1977, twelve other women whose individual contributions shaped the character and appearance of The Sister Chapel joined Greenstein. In its final form, the installation consisted of Greensteins eighteen-foot abstract ceiling suspended above a circular arrangement of eleven nine-foot canvases, each depicting the standing figure of a heroic woman. The choice of subject was left entirely to the creator of each work. As a result, the paintings form a visually cohesive group without diminishing the individuality of the artists.
The Sister Chapel features contemporary and historical women, deities, and conceptual figures, including Bella Abzugthe Candidate, a portrait of the American Congresswoman and social reformer, painted by Alice Neel; Betty Friedan as the Prophet, a portrayal of the influential author of The Feminine Mystique, by June Blum; Marianne Moore, the American poet, by Betty Holliday; Frida Kahlo, the celebrated Mexican artist, by Shirley Gorelick; Artemisia Gentileschi, the seventeenth-century Italian Baroque artist, by May Stevens; Joan of Arc, the sainted fifteenth-century French military heroine, by Elsa M. Goldsmith; Lilith, the rebellious first wife of Adam, by Sylvia Sleigh; God, a female manifestation of the supreme creator, by Cynthia Mailman; Durga, the powerful Hindu goddess, by Diana Kurz; Womanhero, a conceptual embodiment of female strength and power, by Martha Edelheit; and Self-Portrait as Superwoman (Woman as Culture Hero) by Sharon Wybrants.