Miriam Schapiro, leader of the feminist art movement, dies at 91 – ARTnews.com

Myriam Schapiro.


Painter, sculptor and printmaker Miriam Schapiro, who helped lead the feminist art movement in the 1970s, inspiring generations of artists, died on June 20 at age 91 after a long illness. She is survived by her son, Peter von Brandenburg.

Schapiro, sometimes nicknamed “Mimi,” was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1923. She was the only child of two Russian Jewish parents. His father was an artist and intellectual who was studying at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York when Schapiro was born. His mother, a housewife and Zionist, encouraged Schapiro to pursue an artistic career. At six years old, Schapiro began to draw.

During the Great Depression, the family came to Brooklyn. It was also around this time that Schapiro began taking art classes at the Museum of Modern Art, where she was able to study from nude models. In 1941, she graduated from Erasmus High School and went to Iowa State University – she earned a BA in 1945, an MA in 1946, and an MA in 1949. While there, she met Paul Brach, who became her husband. in 1946. They moved to New York in 1952 and, three years later, had a son in 1955.

This year also marked the start of Schapiro’s career as a full-time artist. (She had previously served as a secretary to a rabbi.) Drawing inspiration from the Abstract Expressionists, she began exhibiting in New York. As late as 2000, Schapiro cited the movement’s all-over compositions as a major influence on his colorful and energetic work.

When Schapiro and Brach moved to California in 1967, she became one of the first artists to use a computer to create her works. Working with physicist David Nabilof, she creates abstract paintings with hard contours. One such abstraction was BEEF (1967), a version of which belongs to the Brooklyn Museum. The painting features a hard-edged O at the crossroads of an X. The result is a vaginal shape that feminist artist Judy Chicago called the “middle core” imagery, which she and Schapiro considered a symbol of the body. .

Miriam Schapiro, Big OX, 1967, acrylic on canvas.  COURTESY OF FLOMENHAFT GALLERY

Myriam Schapiro, Big BEEF1967, acrylic on canvas.


In the 1970s, Schapiro became one of the most important artists in a burgeoning feminist art scene. In collaboration with Chicago, in 1971 Schapiro co-founded the first feminist art program, at the California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia. The following year, Schapiro and Chicago co-directed Woman’s house, an installation in a dilapidated Hollywood house that involved the work of 28 female artists. (Only women were allowed to visit the facility on the first day.) Schapiro’s art was in the dollhouse room. She, along with Sherry Brody, created a doll house which, in Schapiro’s words, combined “the beauty, charm, and supposed security and comfort of the house with the unspeakable terrors existing with its walls.” In a statement in the brochure, she said it “echoes the feelings of a woman’s place and brings to mind the magic of childhood, the whimsical control of heart tremors”. Some 10,000 people visited the facility in the month it opened.

“When we did Woman’s housewe were scared to death, because it had never been done before – such a gigantic project, you know, on an idea that had never been stated before,” Schapiro said in a 1989 oral history. has since become a landmark in the history of feminist art.

Also in the 1970s, Schapiro began to theorize what she called “femming,” or a type of art that bonded materials like cloth, paint, and fabric, elements that had long been associated with activities. women at home. In his definition of femmage, Schapiro writes that the style, which recalls both quilting and cubism, has a “woman’s life context” and that it “celebrates a private or public event”. It could also only be made by women.

“His first major impact [on art] was to bring women’s things – women’s treasures”, Nancy Azara, one of the founders of the Feminist Art Institute of New YorkTold ART news in an interview. “These things had been tossed aside, and she enjoyed them.”

Schapiro’s use of femmage propelled her as one of the leading artists of the Pattern and Decoration movement, an American style that emerged in the mid-1970s and lasted into the early 1980s. conceptual art and minimalism, pattern and decoration, or P&D, brought color back into avant-garde art. In Schapiro’s work, in particular, the P&D style can be seen in the patterns of her vibrant fabrics, which, as with her femmage works, have a feminist subtext – they refer to quilting, appliqué and other handicrafts.

Miriam Schapiro, Beauty of Summer, 1973–74, acrylic and fabric on canvas.  COURTESY OF FLOMENHAFT GALLERY

Myriam Schapiro, summer beauty1973–74, acrylic and fabric on canvas.


Schapiro is committed to promoting female art. In 1979, she co-founded the New York Feminist Art Institute, which organized workshops and lectures given by women. Later, realizing that there were not enough women in art history textbooks, she became a member of the College Art Association.

In the decades since P&D, Schapiro has continued to include fabrics and artisanal techniques in her work, now using them to reevaluate her Jewish identity and the role of women throughout American history. She has received several awards for her work – an Honorary Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 1988 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Polk Museum of Art in 2002.

Schapiro has become an important, if underrated, figure in the history of contemporary art. In 2007, his work was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the vital and widely acclaimed Los Angeles exhibition “WACK!” Art and the feminist revolution. His last solo exhibition dates back to 2011, when the Flomenhaft Gallery also had a mini retrospective from his work.

Although Schapiro’s work is not widely illustrated in art history books, she was an influence for many contemporary artists. Deborah Kass gave Schapiro the Warhol treatment, screen printing his image twiceand Lynn Hershman Leeson interviewed Schapiro for his 2010 documentary ! Women’s Art Revolution.

In an email, artist and writer Mira Schor, who worked on Woman’s house while still a student at CalArts, said Schapiro’s legacy is felt today. “Her work established many of the feminist and feminist-inspired art tropes familiar to us today, the use of clothing and lace, and she was also a founding member of the Pattern and Decoration movement which was part of from the pluralism of style characteristic of the 1970s,” Schor wrote. “The clearances from the aesthetics and politics of these two movements continue to influence artists today, even if they don’t know it. her work and her teaching, she has influenced the work and changed the lives of women artists around the world who have heard her talk and seen her work.

Norma D. Ross