February 10, 2009

Ithaca Arts Update: Fancy Femmes

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History would have you believe that the rise of women was hard-fought and radical; we remember the hunger strikes of Emmeline Pankhurst and the man-hating manifestos of Valerie Solanas. But before either of them, women were working tactfully through opportunity and ingenuity to establish themselves in the male-dominated art world. A new show of prints at The Johnson Museum, appropriately titled “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”: Innovative Women Artists on Paper, sheds new light on the little-known legacy of these innovative women artists.
Spanning almost a entury, the works that populate the Johnson’s tiny print room are interwoven with the narratives of the women who made them. Some defined by wealth and worldliness, like the impressionist Mary Cassatt, who brought Eastern sensibilities back to Europe from Tokyo, and others of more humble ends, like the Beaux-Arts painter Suzanne Valadon, an illegitimate daughter and circus performer who sat for Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir before Degas took her on as a mentor.
The extraordinary lives of these “well-behaved women” has perhaps never been more delicately written. Featured alongside their male contemporaries the works take on a new context rife with hope and opportunity, and their work is not to be missed.