On Your Radar: Portraiture at the Met, Marjorie Strider, and Meret Oppenheim at MoMA

Sandra Bertrand


The Power of Portraiture: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Through February 7, 2023)

There’s no underestimating the power in a human face -- and the proof is in the current exhibition The Power off Portraiture: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Met.  Boasting over 1 million examples from around 1400 to the present, the possibilities are endless. The curators are to be congratulated for choosing a particularly diverse and dazzling array.

At the heart of the exhibit are works by members of Black Women of Print, a collective founded by Tanekeya Word, to promote the visibility of Black women printmakers. In LaToya M. Hobbs’s portrait of Margaret Taylor Burroughs, one can feel the joy in her woodcut depiction. Burroughs was an artist and founder of the DuSable Black History Museum in Chicago. Word’s own linocut collage, Starshine & Clay, portrays a regal Black woman framed by the sun.



Word’s collective of talented printmakers was obviously inspired by Elizabeth Catlett’s Sharecropper (1952). Through a combination of aquatint, etching and relief, her subject confronts the viewer in all her straight-on simplicity, with no apology. To this reviewer’s eye, it is the strongest entry in a standout show. 

Willie Cole’s monumental works further extend the boundaries of the genre, using steam irons and ironing boards to point to histories of unrecognized labor. Who would have thought that a simple ironing board could carry such significance? But Cole’s do —they manage to become a universal icon of servitude.

Other works that surprise the eye can be found in a group of witchcraft scenes by such giants as Giovanni David, Francisco de Goya, Eugène Delacroix, and Odilon Redon, tracing the evolution of nightmare imagery.  Delacroix’s lithograph of Macbeth Consulting the Witches (1825) is a prime example. 

Finally, nature itself demands attention in a series of landscapes that demonstrate the appeal of the forest as a vehicle for the study of light and color. One can only surmise that such exhibits will encourage viewers to add the power of printmaking to their wish lists.



Marjorie Strider, Girls, girls, girls!

galerie gmurzynska, New York City

(Through February 28, 2023)

I first encountered Marjorie Strider’s Girl with Radish in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum on Pop Artists from 1960-1962. It was audacious, fun, and the biggest attention-grabber of the show. By replacing the iconic, erotic cherry with a simple radish, she had managed to turn Pop Art on its head. Here was a woman artist in the company of such heavy-hitters as Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg, who was hiding in plain sight!

My search continued early this year at galerie gmurzynska, where I was greeted by gallery director Hope Blalock, an enthusiastic and informative guide. The gallery has an international reputation for promoting vital proponents of the avant-garde, including such female luminaries as Sonia Delaunay and Louise Nevelson.  Embracing the bold and fearless sensibilities of Strider is nothing new to Blalock. She is an obvious fan.



Strider was certainly an avowed feminist, but she was also a joyful protestor. There’s a sense of play in her compositions. She has said, “The heart must do its work undisturbed by reflective consciousness.”  There’s also mischief at work. A perfect example is Untitled from 1964, featuring a Coca Cola bottle nestled between a waitress’s breasts, exploding with foam. A diptych from 2010 features a bathing beauty on the bottom panel with a cresting sea wave on the top portion. The same sensibility holds as in her earlier compositions from the 1960s, but Red Towel, one of her compositions from 2010, puts giant color planes in high relief, so the headless bikini form and towel become abstract, even if the context is familiar.

New plastic materials such as epoxy-coated Styrofoam allowed her to create “build outs,” which expanded her flat paintings into real space. Her triptych from 1963 of a beach girl gave physicality to her images. Nudes, flowers, and vegetables were all fair game.

At the same time, there’s an all-American healthiness to her vision. Strider was born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in 1931 and though she moved to New York by 1957 to become recognized in the forefront of Pop Art, she never abandoned her own sense of self and style in the bigger world. 

In her essay on Becoming a Woman Artist, she saw herself coming through “from being small to being large and always moving only out and up…the motion being one huge expansion.”



Meret Oppenheim: My Exhibition

Museum of Modern Art

(Through March 4, 2023)

Visiting the world of Meret Oppenheim is a little like confronting Object, her famed fur teacup—the viewer is tempted to imagine what’s underneath. It’s just an ordinary teacup, isn’t it—but is it?  Such layers and layers of surprises await.  

The current retrospective at MOMA has unearthed through nearly 200 paintings, sculptures, assemblages, reliefs, jewelry designs, works on paper, and collages to reflect a marvelously fluid mind. For at least part of her six-decade career, Oppenheim has not been widely known outside her native Switzerland, and many of these objects are on display for the first time.

Imagine: A Stone Woman (1938) washed up on a shore. Her body a string of pebbles, artfully arranged, her human legs skirting the living surf. A painting, but so much more.  An early assemblage, Ma Governante-My Nurse-Mein Kindermadchen, displays a pair of high heels bound to a metal plate, a vulva-like shape attached, suggesting bondage.  A nightmare version of Judy Chicago’s dinner plates? In Daphne and Apollo (1943) reimagined by the artist, Daphne has transformed herself into a laurel tree, while Apollo is a pudgy suitor, little more than a clump of vegetation. The artist’s execution could easily rival contemporaries like Max Ernst or Salvador Dali.



Animal-headed Demon (1961) has the artist transforming a 19-century clock into a fantastical crocodile-like creature. With such works, she has joined later art movements in repurposing everyday consumer goods.

A surprising addition to this exhibit is a set of meticulously rendered drawings of more than 200 objects from her body of work. It was meant to serve as a guide for curators of a traveling retrospective. The intricate delineation and care shown by the artist speaks  volumes about her own drive toward artistic perfection.

Later works show an easy embrace of materials, such as Profile (1964), where oil, chalk, molded substance and glass marble, the latter creating a mesmerizing eye, greet the viewer. There She Flies, the Beloved (1975) reconciles the male and female aspects of the self. Oppenheim summed it all up accordingly: “Nobody will give you freedom,” she said in 1975, “you have to take it.”



Author Bio:

Sandra Bertrand is Highbrow Magazine’s chief art critic.


For Highbrow Magazine


Images Source: Sandra Bertrand


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