The sardonic #Hoffsome-approved Tumblr posts of “All Male Panel” keep us painfully aware of how underrepresented women are, well, everywhere, but especially in the world of art conferences, culture Q+As, academic panels, and business summits. (Oh wait, that’s just the entire public realm.) At least the female form will be better represented on paper starting tomorrow, with the opening of Italian Airs, the first-ever pop-up show hosted by Schema Projects, an all-art-on-paper, all-the-time gallery in Bushwick. (The exhibition will also be included in the inaugural Bushwick Hot Summer Nights.)
Melanie Parke is one of four participating artists in “Italian Airs,” and she’ll be showing works from her series “What If Sappho,” named for the ancient Greek lyric poet, the bulk of whose completed work has been lost (we’re left with only bits and fragments of her poems). According to Parke’s artist statement, the series of gouache paintings on paper is “a feminist inquiry.”
While working as a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome last year, Parke studied ancient art history– mosaics, frescos, and sculpture– and realized that “real women” were underrepresented. “Most of the women who are represented are goddesses– [the works], they’re not really of women because they’re not the real flesh and blood of women,” she said. “If you were an ancient woman looking at some of these sculptures, they didn’t represent you.”
Parke told us that through her work, she’s aiming to “unravel some of the implications of patriarchy” and get to the “squishy insides of real women.” In doing so, she imagined a world in which Sappho’s poetry actually survived intact, by “riffing on motifs typically reserved for men by succeeding them with women,” and creating drawings that “repurpose existing representations of women and most often lack them.”
Director of Schema Projects Mary Judge praised Parke’s achievements with the Sappho series. “She changed history to herstory,” she explained. “And changed the male protagonist in imagery that she was seeing to female.”
Judge revealed that Parke will be giving a “consciousness-raising” talk along with her husband, the artist Richard Kooyman (who also studied at the American Academy in Rome) wisely titled Sapphic Diaspora, on Saturday at 4 pm. While Parke’s discussion will focus on similar themes found in her work– as she described it: “some of the burdens of beauty on women in ancient art”– Kooyman’s slide talk Concepts of Beauty, Ancient and Modern will be about the way we perceive the “beauty” of ancient Roman art today. Kooyman’s own paintings depict Roman figures and landscapes, which he writes are an attempt at creating a “type of visual archaeology.”
The works by the two other participating artists, Carrie Beckmann and Christophe Boulanger, are on a larger scale. Judge met Beckmann last year when she was invited to be a visiting critic at the Bau Institute in Puglia– an Italian institution located in the country’s south (the director also owns a home in Puglia).
“Carrie does big, ballsy, watercolors,” Judge explained.
“It’s not a retrograde depiction–it’s joyful and bold and liberated– and that’s what makes it more interesting than the little old lady down the street who paints flowers,” Judge continued. “ Anyone today using, let’s say, flower or plant material as their main subject matter, you could easily just never emerge from a hobbyist genre, and what she does is she takes a genre that’s kind of hackneyed, and she gives a really fresh take on it with lots of enthusiasm and no apologies.”
Boulanger works more abstractly, inspired by the rock and the ancient olive trees of Puglia’s dry terrain. “There’s a sense of prehistory there,” Judge said.
Italian Airs opens at 6 pm on Thursday May 19 and is on view through Tuesday May 24 at Schema Projects.