Over 30 of Joan Snyder’s major works are presented in the most comprehensive museum survey of this influential artist’s paintings to date. This exhibition incorporates groundbreaking 1970s “stroke paintings” and subsequent works expressing Snyder’s political and social concerns and personal associations.
The Jewish Museum is pleased to present Joan Snyder: A Painting Survey, 1969-2005, an exhibition that features a selection of thirty-one major works representing more than three decades of the artist’s career. Joan Snyder is an avowed feminist and belongs to the first generation of women artists to identify themselves as such. Along with Elizabeth Murray, Mary Heilman, and Miriam Schapiro, Snyder strove to tame the heroic gestures of male-dominated Abstract Expressionism into a new intimate painterly language. The paintings on view range from monumental (some as large as six by twelve feet) to modest in scale. They take the viewer by surprise as the artist skillfully invests the large canvases with an intensely personal sensibility and the smaller ones with astonishing grandeur.
Snyder gained early recognition with her “stroke paintings” which she made between 1969 and 1973. These works relied on the repeated gesture of a paint-laden brush applied over a grid penciled on the canvas. With the physicality of their drips and marks, the stroke paintings exploited new opportunities for narrative within abstraction. The tension between narrative content and formalism in these works may be seen in the larger context of the art world of the late 1960s, in which cool, hard-edged minimalism was pervasive and painting with any emotional reference was suspect. The artist has said that the strokes are about paint itself—paint moving across the canvas; paint as medium for feelings, sensations, or sounds; paint suggesting a storyline. After making these abstractions, Snyder felt the need to create more complex works, which express her political and social concerns. She moved on to paintings that integrate personal associations she has with her family, feminism, her Jewish heritage, spirituality, and the environment. Consequently, her work moved from an implied narrative about the act of making art to a more personal narrative.
Snyder’s works serve as a barometer of her emotional life, simultaneously reflecting specific places in which she has lived, as well as her social concerns and commitment. Works such as Women in Camps (1988) and Study for Morning Requiem with Kaddish (1987–88, in the Jewish Museum’s collection), attest to the artist’s ongoing engagement with social issues, while Moonfield (1986) and Ode to the Pumpkin Field (1986) reveal a feeling of physical and spiritual kinship in nature. Many of the paintings from the 1990s are requiems for the deceased. The devastating losses from AIDS prompted Journey of the Souls (1993), and The Cherry Tree (1993) was inspired by a fruit tree she had seen in a Brooklyn yard as she was driving to visit her dying father. The cherry tree as a metaphor of life and death recurred in many other paintings by Snyder in the 1990s and provided her with a sense of release from grief. Snyder often incorporates collage elements—cloth, dried flowers, branches, seeds, plastic novelties—and painted graffiti-like writing. This scrawled writing, sometimes incised into the paint layer, is as much a part of her artistic vocabulary as the images themselves. In Snyder’s intuitive approach, sensation and idea, image and text, emotion and material fuse to create her unique and highly personal canvases.
The exhibition has been organized by the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts.