Rachel Feinstein discusses Maiden, Mother, Crone Read More
The Artist Muses: Rachel Feinstein on “Maiden, Mother, Crone”
Sunday, January 17, 2021 marks the final day that the exhibition “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone” will be on view. The first U.S. survey of the New York-based artist opened on November 1, 2019, featuring three decades of Feinstein’s work in sculpture, painting, and video. We asked the artist for some final musings to close out a wonderful run.
On the inspiration behind the Jewish Museum exhibition:
I bought a book at the Strand called Maids, Madonnas, & Witches by Andreas Feininger a couple years ago. The book contains beautiful black and white photographs that Feininger took himself of different historical sculptures of women from prehistoric times to Picasso all made by men. I found the categories of women they made for each chapter interesting, tragic, and funny. Henry Miller wrote the introduction and E.E. Cummings added poetry. The whole book is about women by men. I wanted to take what I could from this book but make my own version about women by a woman. The book was the starting place for the title Maiden, Mother, Crone, but the theme began to evolve as I started to delve deeper into Jungian psychoanalysis and “Game of Thrones.” I have been moving through these three stages myself, now beginning the last phase of Crone. Each stage has its pluses and minuses. Even though each stage is highly relevant, our world only has eyes for the Maiden and it stops there even though we all hopefully move beyond it. Having the wisdom of the Crone only comes with time and sacrifice. The Maiden has a perfect body and feels no pain but it comes at the sacrifice of not knowing anything. Being a Mother gives you the profound experience of bringing life into the world but also losing yourself.
On her interest in art and turning it into a career:
I had a grandmother who was a Sunday painter and she recognized that I was an artist at an early age. I would find cardboard boxes and make sculptures out of them or use plaster bandages that my father would bring home from the hospital (my dad was a doctor). Grandma Martha started to take me to drawing and painting lessons when I was around 12. I later applied to the RISD pre-college summer school when I was in high school which further revealed my talents and desires. There was not much culture in Miami in the 1980’s, so wanting to be a well-known contemporary artist was an impossible dream. My parents didn’t want me to major in art or go to an art school because they thought I would never be able to support myself. Luckily I got into Columbia University as an undergraduate and was able to take serious art classes and go downtown to see the galleries even though at first I was majoring in pre-med. By mid-term of freshman year I dropped the pre-med classes and started doing mostly art, religion, and philosophy classes. I majored in religion and philosophy with a minor in art. Judy Pfaff was my sculpture teacher at Columbia and she was the reason why I became a professional artist. She helped me apply to Skowhegan and have Columbia endorse my residency. I soon met Kiki Smith and Ursula Von Rydingsvard and they became important role models and mentors as well. Because I was able to see Judy, Kiki, and Ursula’s lives as professional artists, I knew that I could become one. too.
On her Jewish background and how it contributed to her art and life:
My father was raised orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn and when he was in medical school at SUNY Syracuse he met my mother who is Catholic. It was love at first sight and I was raised in both religions hence my reason to become a religion and philosophy major in college. I identify more with Judaism but am open to each person’s path to finding their own root and anchor in our seismic times. Judaism connects me to my father, who passed away right before my Jewish Museum show opened. I miss him so much and know that he would have been so proud to have my first museum show at the Jewish Museum.
On her proudest career moment to date:
Having 25 years of my work all in one room is a profound experience so I would say the show at the Jewish Museum is the proudest moment of my career so far. When I saw the Crucifixion sculpture for the first time in 20 years, I was so happy to see how strong it was. It held up in my memory and even looked better than I remembered. An art work like Crucifixion is much more meaningful for me than seeing a photograph when I was young-; the sculpture is almost like seeing a part of my soul captured and frozen from that time. I can look at certain passages of the sculpture and remember where I was and how it felt to make it. My sculptures are extensions of my body that do not age and decay with time like flesh does. Art is the pathway I use to be immortal.
On her next project:
My work Crucifixion opened up something in me. A writer named Steven Vincent wrote an article on that work called “The Plywood Intercessor” in 2003. He wanted to interview me because he thought I had made a religious image because I too was affected by seeing the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. At that point I could not understand my motives for making the work and felt that the interview was strange. Steven Vincent moved to Basra, Iraq to write about the war. In 2005, he wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and a few days after it was published, he was murdered. Re-reading his article on my sculpture and living through this painful last year with COVID has made me want to portray religious iconography in my art again. I am working on making mirror paintings of well-known images of Jesus, Mary, the Deposition, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, etc. I do not know where this will lead me but I am finding inspiration and energy from drawing these universal images.
Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone is on view at the Jewish Museum through January 17, 2021. Museum admission is free with timed ticket — learn more and reserve at TheJewishMuseum.org/RachelFeinstein.