Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography began yesterday at the Norton Simon Museum
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Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography began yesterday at the Norton Simon Museum
Irene Siegel (American, b. 1932), Zap (Ogg, Zog, Zap and Xis III), 1967, lithograph, paper: 21-3/4 x 30 in. (55.25 x 76.2 cm.) Norton Simon Museum, Anonymous Gift. P.1969.092.319. © Irene Siegel.

PASADENA, CALIF.- The Norton Simon Museum presents Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography, an exhibition that began yesterday and will continue through to February 13, 2023, is featuring works on paper by six critically acclaimed artists: Ruth Asawa, Gego, Eleanore Mikus, Louise Nevelson, Irene Siegel and Hedda Sterne. Each of them received a two-month fellowship at the famed Tamarind Lithography Workshop, founded by the visionary printmaker June Wayne in 1960.

Although they had established their reputations in other media, including painting, sculpture and installation art, all of the artists in this exhibition found that lithography offered fascinating new possibilities for exploring their aesthetic interests. The more than 90 works on view, all created in the 1960s, are part of the Norton Simon Museum collection, which owns a near complete set of lithographs created at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles.

Ruth Asawa (American, 1926–2013) is best known for her hanging sculptures, created in looped and tied wire. At Tamarind in 1965, she eagerly experimented with a variety of lithographic techniques, to the delight of her printers. Inspired by subjects from the natural world, Asawa brought forth images that combined abstraction with representation. Her work on the stone ranged from delicate, precise floral studies to loose applications with greasy ink washes that favored chance patterns in the printing.

Gertrud Goldschmidt (Venezuelan, b. Germany, 1912–1994), the Caracas-based sculptor and printmaker known as Gego, arrived at Tamarind in 1966. Trained as an architect and engineer, Gego embedded qualities of volume, motion and transparency in her line-based works on paper and in her admired Reticuláreas—weblike, ethereal installations fabricated from wire and metal. At Tamarind, Gego directed her efforts toward eliciting the kinetic sensation that distinguished her other lithographs. She introduced unexpected interruptions, subtle dips and hatchings to her line work on the stone, adding flux as well as a note of whimsy.

Eleanore Mikus’s Tablets, a hybrid form of painting and relief crafted from wood, fiberglass, glue and gesso, received critical acclaim in New York’s art world in the 1960s. Often associated with minimalism because they were reductive and monochromatic, they feature subtly fluctuating surfaces. Their intimations of cast shadows, suggestive of movement, encourage looking and contemplation. Mikus (American, 1927–2017) achieved comparable results with her works on paper by hand-manipulating the material prior to drawing. At Tamarind in 1968, the artist added dimension to her printing papers by folding them and employing a bookbinder’s knife to add horizontal and vertical creases prior to printing her designs.

Louise Nevelson (American, b. Ukraine, 1899–1988) presented a novel vision for sculpture in mid-century America. Adopting unorthodox materials and processes to create monumental, monochromatic constructions made from wood and found objects, Nevelson demonstrated that women artists, too, could successfully produce large-scale sculpture. At Tamarind in 1967, she continued to challenge convention by printing on shaped papers and placing inked cheesecloth over the stone to impose textural impressions that transferred to the prints. She even hinged select prints together, like assemblages, with the goal of creating three-dimensional environments. Nevelson’s inventive approaches freed her lithographs from their traditional format, expanding expectations of how they should look and function.

Drawing and intaglio printmaking were Irene Siegel’s métier. Trained at the Institute of Design in Chicago, Siegel (American, b. 1932) developed a personal figurative vocabulary informed by experiences from her immediate world—the intersection of life dreams and practical considerations, and the dynamics of the male-female relationship. She adopted a color- and pattern-forward style that she described as “pop-surrealism.” At Tamarind in 1967, the artist found the lithographic process complementary to her architectonic approach to composition. To achieve the crisp edges she desired, Siegel preferred hard-grade lithographic pencils and crayons for their low grease content. She exhausted her implements so quickly that her workshop colleagues nicknamed her the “woodpecker.”

The radically modern character of New York City, where Hedda Sterne immigrated in 1941, inspired her abstract painting. A familiar presence in the city’s art world, Sterne (American, b. Romania, 1910–2011) participated actively in gallery exhibits, a notable circumstance for a female artist at mid-century. Unlike her Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, with whom she was critically linked, her painting style was disciplined and structured. When she reached Tamarind, at age 56 in 1967, her artistic interests became more focused as she turned to the natural world for inspiration. Though she was still interested in evoking the essential features of her subjects through abstraction, Sterne’s lithographs engage with the organic forms of vegetation and the illusory effects of sea and sky.

Describing her folded paper work from this period, Eleanore Mikus advised viewers to pay close attention, for “the more you look, the more you see.” Ink, Paper, Stone explores the significance of that observation in the works of art themselves, as well as in the lives of these groundbreaking women artists, who navigated the complex and competing expectations of an art world in which female achievement was measured by a different set of standards.

Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography is organized by Gloria Williams Sander, Curator at the Norton Simon Museum. It is on view in the Museum’s lower-level exhibition wing from October 14, 2022 through February 13, 2023. A series of virtual and in-person public programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition. Details will be made available in early fall.

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