Challenging notions of High
Art with Femmage
Miriam Schapiro in front of her piece, ‘Pleasure Dome,’ at Kristen Frederickson
Contemporary Art Gallery on Reade St. Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth
Born in Toronto 1923
Studied painting in New York
Began working in Abstract Expressionist
style but during
1960s developed Feminist works
Established Feminist Art programme at
Collaborated with Judy Chicago in
Instrumental in the growth of the „Pattern
and Decoration‟ movement – who aimed
to destabilise preconceptions of high art;
embraced beauty and humour in a time
of minimalist, intellectual art.
combination of paint and “feminine” materials –
e.g. fabric, embroidery, quilting, clothing in
For Schapiro & her collaborator Melissa Meyer it is a high art
term that describes what women have been doing for centuries
– assembling pictures from assorted materials – e.g. through
Sewing, piecing, hooking, quilting, appliqueing
Blurs the boundaries between fine arts – as she uses paint AND
She transforms and reveals crafts
WHY IS THIS CHARACTERISTICALLY FEMINIST?
Anonymous was a Woman 1977
series of prints was made from actual doilies, the
lacy cloths of flowers, hearts, baby bonnets etc.
“I chose this media because traditional women‟s
work, such as embroidery and crocheting, were
not signed,” said Schapiro
The Doll House 1972
Part of the Womenhouse
Made in collaboration
with artist Sherry Brody
Sense of fantasy / fun
How does this work
Close up of two rooms
“Feminism taught me
not to worry about
what I was allowed or
not allowed to do as a
serious artist”. (Miriam
“Decorative is not a
dirty word” (Art Critic
David Bourdon, 1976 in a
review in the Village
Anatomy of A Kimono 1975-76
Detail – of the monumental 50 ft wide femmage
(installation at Andre Emmerich gallery 1976)
Give 2 ways this work declares itself „high art‟
Iconography – what 3 motifs are visible in this
section? What is suggested by the black figure?
Why do you think she chose the kimono?
Anatomy of a Kimono
On the choice of the kimono,
“I wanted to speak directly to women – I chose the
Kimono as a ceremonial robe for the new woman.
I wanted her to be dressed with the power of her
own office, her inner strength… I wanted the
kimonos to be a surrogate for me, for others. Later
I remembered that men also wore kimonos, so the
piece had an androgynous quality.”
Many Pattern & Decoration artists drew inspiration
from Celtic, Byzantine and Islamic art. For
Schapiro, it was Japanese art.
Mary Cassatt and Me 1976
She termed these
(metaphor for her
homage to the
earlier artist‟s work)
In what ways does
this resemble a
Why do you think
she has chosen this
Frida Kahlo presented with features of
Resembles the Mexican goddess of
birth & death Tlazeoteot'l
(Portrait of Frida Kahlo) 1988
Barcelona Fan 1979
Materials: Paint, Fabric glued on canvas.
Size: 1.83 x 3.66m
Style: How does this work present itself as High
Art ? (consider composition, form, size). In what
ways can it be considered „decorative‟?
Iconography – why a fan?
able to make
Mother Russia 1994
Features Russian modernist women
Iconography: what colours and motifs
communicate the theme of this work?
Describe the various art forms you can see. What is the central
2.5 x 4m “this is an enormous painting”
Media: Acrylic and fabric collage on canvas
Old Australian needlework (this made after Schapiro‟s return
from Australia in 1983) e.g
Table linen with maps of Australia
Quilting on the border
Iconography: (as described by Schapiro herself)
“The central image is an apologetic housewife in a 1920s
She makes a slight curtsy in our direction as if to see, „I‟m
sorry, excuse me for living.‟
I felt that by making a large canvas magnificent in colour,
design and proportion I could raise a housewife‟s lowered
Master of Ceremonies 1985
Describe the figures in this work. What ideas about men and
women do they suggest?
Which character do you think might represent the artist?
What might this work say about identity?
What is suggested by the stage lights?
Master of Ceremonies
3 figures: The male is in the center, the focus of
the mother figure is peripheral and even more fully
part of the masquerade of femininity
the daughter has rejected traditional femininity in her
costume, her position, and her movement.
Although the Schapiro figure holds a palette, she is more
like a cloth doll, without a spine, than a strong person.
The lights on the floor of the stage look like flaming pots,
and one has to wonder if this image is an image of
successful separation and construction of role and
gender identity or the opposite.
It is, afterall, almost an apocalypse, with the leaning
buildings in the background, but one which is masked by
the performance of the theater. (www.radford.edu)
Summary: Key Characteristics of Schapiro‟s art
imagery from the women's sphere: quilts, houses,
she “collaborates” with the work of women artists
who were invisible in art history whom she wants to
place in an artistic genealogy with herself.
Her large scale Femmage challenges notions of
high art by bringing traditionally female art forms
into fine art contexts
This allows her to pay homage to artists whose
legacy she wants to preserve
it is also a method she uses to explore her own
identity as a woman artist.
What do you think?
Is Miriam Schapiro‟s work is
successful in claiming a place in
history for the materials, techniques
and art forms traditionally
associated with women?
Entry on „Miriam Schapiro‟ in the Concise
Dictionary of Women Artists, by Mary
Norma Broude, „Miriam Schapiro &
Femmage‟ from The Power of Feminist Art