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20160510135019-angry_hillary 20160510140434-_dsc7797 20160510140010-_dsc7502 20160510160216-fs 20160510155906-lf_re_cm_10308 20160510140240-_dsc7550 20160510140144-_dsc7683 20160510140346-_dsc7664 20160510160030-_dsc8207
'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
20160510134408-fishman_portrait_2015_05
Angry Hillary, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Angry Hillary,
2008, Acrylic on paper, 26 x 40 in.
© Courtesy of the artist
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Untitled, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Untitled,
1993–1994, Plaster on corrugated cardboard, staples, 3 x 4 x 4 1/2 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read
Untitled, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Untitled,
2014, Oil and wood collage on board, 3 3/16 x 2 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,
2016, Installation view at ICA Philadelphia
© Courtesy of ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh
Angry Paula, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Angry Paula,
1973, Acrylic on paper, 26 x 40 in.
© Courtesy of the artist
All Night And All Day, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, All Night And All Day,
2008 , Oil on canvas , 66 x 57 inches
© Cheim & Read
Zero at the Bone, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Zero at the Bone,
2010, oil on linen, 70" x 60"
© Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Paule Anglim
 ZERO AT THE BONE, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, ZERO AT THE BONE,
2010 , Oil on linen , 70 x 60 inches 177.8 x 152.4 centimeters
© Courtesy of the artist & Cheim & Read
Untitled, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Untitled,
Watercolour on paper, 40 x 30 cm
© © Louise Fishman, courtesy of Nosco|Frameless and Cheim and Read.
Rookery, Louise FishmanLouise Fishman, Rookery,
2014, oil on linen, 66 x 57 inches
© Courtesy of the Artist and Cheim & Read
Louise Fishman (Philadelphia, 1939) lives and works in New York City. Widely shown, her work is represented in manycollections, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Whitney Museum ofAmerican Art, New York; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.;the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; and the Jewish Museum, New York, amongothers. Awards include three Natio...[more]


RackRoom
Louise Fishman: Subverting the Patriarchy with 2-inch Paintings

April 2016, Philadelphia: On a Friday evening in Philadelphia, the ICA teems with people bending down, squinting, and getting up close and personal with the works on view in Louise Fishman’s latest exhibition Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock. The one-room show is filled with Fishman’s small-scale work, along with her better known large-scale works, plus collected objects and ephemera from throughout the artist’s impressive, decades-long career.

The main grouping of works in the show is installed in the center of the room on freestanding walls and pedestals. Small colorful canvasses, modeled cardboard and bronze abstractions, low wooden stools, and carved figurines are all arranged in an almost anthropological display, presenting the works almost like artifacts collected from the studio.

Installation view of Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, ICA Philadelphia, April–August 2016
Courtesy of the artist and ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh

 

Earlier works provide a context along with some of Fishman’s more outwardly narrative works, like Angry Ti-Grace (1973), from the Angry Women series. The painting pays a fitting homage to Ti-Grace Atkinson who curated the inaugural exhibition at the ICA back in 1963, and was a large influence on Fishman’s radical feminist education.

This concise exhibition offers a glimpse into the important legacy Louise Fishman has built both as an artist and an activist, touching on themes of her own queer and Jewish identity, along with her diligent persistence in breaking out from the patriarchal canon to create work that is truly, markedly, and radically her own. In the following interview, Louise Fishman talks growing up in the rich art environment of Philadelphia, the influence of the lesbian and queer movements in the late sixties on her practice, and how unfortunately, not much has changed in the discomfort society has with powerful women, be they artists, writers, or presidential candidates. 

Untitled, 2011, Acrylic on rusted metal, 1 1/4 x 8 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read


 

Olivia Murphy: Your exhibition at the ICA touches on your own history with the city of Philadelphia. How do you think growing up in Philly shaped your work or outlook on art?

Louise Fishman: Philadelphia was a great city in which to grow up as an artist. My early memories are of the grand collections at the Museum: the Arensberg Collection with its Duchamps, Soutines, Rouaults, Mondrians, Matisse, etc. And the extraordinary Rogier van der Weyden Crucifixion in the Johnson Collection. Oh the many days I sat transfixed in front of that grand crucifixion.

My first years in art school afforded me more than I can ever show my gratitude for: sitting on the floor while Philip Guston spoke about being in the studio, as did Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, and others. The Fleischer Art Memorial allowed me to study sculpture and drawing for free at night after the long days at art school. I climbed all over the Burghers of Calais and wandered through the Rodin Museum while his drawings were still exhibited in the light of day. Later, I spent time at the Barnes Foundation in Merion—stunned by the Cezannes, Matisses, Picassos, Renoirs, Rouaults, de Chiricos—an explosion of painting that knocked my socks off. I have infinite numbers of memories—the foundation for a life of art.

OM: Your work Victory Garden of the Amazon Queen (1972) was included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial, four unprimed linen panels of acrylic paint 14 x 13 inches each. Can you talk about the scale of this small work as a radical gesture amidst an era of big male work?

LF: In the late sixties, early seventies, I was actively involved in the lesbian and queer movements with my partner of the time, the esteemed cultural anthropologist, Esther Newton, and later, with the novelist, Bertha Harris. At first, there were no visual artists I knew in those groups, meetings, demonstrations, etc. Later, I helped found a woman artists group that met weekly practicing conscious-raising combined with sessions looking at each other’s work in the context of our experience as women. I began to rethink every decision I had made as an artist up till that moment, and actively tried to discard whatever I felt came from the male tradition—an impossible task, but one that I immersed myself in fully. I stopped working on large canvasses, actually I stopped working with brushes, paint, stretched canvas, etc. I started (as if from scratch) making objects out of found materials, began cutting the grid paintings apart and reassembling them in the form of stitched grids. I learned to sew, to knot, to use materials and techniques primarily associated with women’s work. I began to use liquid rubber after Eva Hesse died—and seeing a memorial show of hers at the School of Visual Arts where she had taught. I had a short friendship with her before that time, but hadn’t seen her work—nor she, mine. (What a loss for me.)

Installation view of Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, ICA Philadelphia, April–August 2016
Courtesy of the artist and ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh

 

OM: Your current show also deals directly with scale, and specifically the “tiny” scale. What has interested you about scale throughout your career, and why focus on such a tiny, seemingly limiting scale now?

LF: “Tiny” has never limited me. Nor has using every resource at hand to make objects—paintings, sculpture, books, etc. If anything, the ideas about scale have helped me expand my understanding of the mark, color, the rectangle (or lack of one), whatever notions I had about art-making. Nothing like opening all the doors that come forward, so to speak. Forcing a person to move toward a painting to see whatever it offers is a challenge. The energy of those little objects are in my fingers, my face, my eyes meeting a color, a mark and they help me in understanding the activity and meaning in making the largest of my paintings. 

OM: You have a variety of works included in this show, ranging in materials from cardboard, to metal, to canvas, to carpet. These materials manifest as books, sculpture, paintings and drawings. Can you speak to how these small, yet disparate works touch on different tropes, such as feminism and the Jewish experience?

LF: In the late sixties, early seventies, I lived in a loft on Mulberry and Canal, having easy access to stores that sold every imaginable kind of material. I spent lots of time looking for anything that interested me as a surface to paint on/work with. There were also a lot of found materials that had been thrown away by businesses and other artists in the area. I was a scavenger. The Women’s Movement allowed me the freedom to do whatever I wanted.

Being a Jew provided other issues: for instance, being forbidden to paint/draw the human figure. I don’t know how literal I was in those days, but my early years were spent in shul, learning what it was to be a Jew. My paternal grandfather (after whom I was named) was a Talmudic scholar, whose primary assistant was my father. We were not orthodox, but very much, Jews. Those early experiences helped form my attitudes on everything, including how to reinvent myself—the way many Russian Jewish immigrants managed in order to survive the various pogroms, violence, and adapting to foreign cultures.

Angry Hillary, 2008, Acrylic on paper, 26 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist

 

OM: Your Angry series from 1973 dealt directly with the frustrations and anger experienced by women in an oppressively patriarchal society. In 2008, picking up the series again to make Angry Hillary, how did this connect for you? It’d been 35 years since you had made the original paintings, and joined and formed many feminist and queer action groups, and yet many of the roadblocks were in place. Two presidential terms later, with Hillary Clinton in the running again for president, what frustrations do you still feel about how our society collective approaches women in power? 

LF: Easily answered: nothing fundamental has changed. Misogyny is still blossoming in every aspect of modern life. When I painted Angry Hillary, I was responding to the hatred toward her—again in evidence when one sees the outrageous followers of Bernie Sanders, who is an unreconstructed and simplistic male politician who hasn’t accomplished much in the state of Vermont but still feels confident to pontificate wildly with no understanding of with whom he’s dealing, nor what it means for a woman to work as a politician for so many years accomplishing vast numbers of things (with some big mistakes—for which, unlike the other candidates, she has been able to express regret). I’ve met hundreds of “socialist” men going off half-cocked (!) during my revolution days—remember, in particular, several women (radical feminist/lesbians) who had been in the Weather Underground. They left because they were still asked to make the coffee. It never ends. The real revolution is that of women. As has been said: Ginger Rogers was as good a dancer as Fred Astaire, but did it backwards and on high heels.

(left) Untitled, 2014, Oil and wood collage on board, 3 3/16 x 2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read
(right) Installation view of Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock. Courtesy of the artist and ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh

 

OM: You were included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, in a room curator Michelle Grabner dedicated specifically to women painters. The women-only framework for shows has been a somewhat contentious one, but there has been a re-immergence of these curatorial decisions with the last Whitney Biennial along with other gallery and museum exhibitions that have followed suite. Artists like Georgia O’Keeffe have famously refused to participate in these shows, while Barbara Kruger says that it’s a way of  “playing catch-up after centuries of women’s marginality and invisibility.” What are your thoughts on the trend or the necessity for shows curated exclusively around women artists?

LF: First of all, let me say that the “Women-only exhibit” at the Whitney Biennial had male art in it (perhaps added as an afterthought).

There’s a lot to be said for women-only exhibits. Several women I know risked their careers as novelists, academics, etc. when being labeled “women” instead of “artists,” “writers,” not to mention “lesbian,” etc. We were all typecast—a way for the institutions and the public to not include our work in the grand histories of art. On the other hand, there are vast benefits, as well. Like not having to deal with the male ego as we assemble and curate our work. I prefer to be referred to as an artist, not with the qualifier “woman/female.”

Or, as my friend, the late author and critic Jill Johnston asserted, “the real revolutionary is the lesbian.”

 

Olivia B. Murphy

Olivia Murphy is a writer and editor based in New York, covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in various publications both in print and online, including L'Officiel MagazineFreunde Von FreundenWhitehotRiot of Perfumedoingbird, and Whitewall Magazine.

 

ArtSlant would like to thank Louise Fishman for her assistance in making this interview possible.

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