New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art

This piece is Dawn by Kristin Richards. Photo by Griffin Lutes.

What do you get when you put an art historian and a museum curator in a car together for the summer?

Dr. Emily Goodman, Assistant Professor of Art History here at Transylvania, curated Morlan Gallery’s latest exhibit, New Domesticity: Women’s Work in Women’s Art. Goodman, accompanied by Morlan Gallery Director Andrea Fisher, traveled across the state this past summer on a road trip in search of Kentucky-based women artists. Goodman and Fisher observed where and how these artists work, which turned out to be an eye-opening adventure/experience in itself. “We spent six weeks of traveling around, so a lot of it was day tripping. We went to Murray and Paducah and Mayfield all in one nice little go” Goodman said, “Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky are very different. I feel like in my first year in Kentucky, I got to see so much of it and I also realized I was naive in thinking Kentucky was a small state, it’s not, it’s so many different places.”

Along with the diverse geography Kentucky has to offer, Goodman discovered diversity in the artists she stumbled upon, and not only how those artists create art, but where they create it.

Shown here is the piece Mandala I by Diane Kahlo. Photo by Griffin Lutes.

“One of the things I loved was getting to meet over twenty women and getting to see where women live and work and how those two ideas overlap, which was really interesting.” said Goodman. “There were some women who work out of their homes, and what those homes are like is really interesting. Some of those homes are you know, ‘I live in an apartment in downtown Lexington’, or ‘come on up where I live in a townhouse in Louisville’. Some of them are ‘I live on a 150 acre farm outside of Frankfort’, or outside of Murray, and you know, ‘come and have a look, there’s gonna be chickens running around, and sheep’, and all these fun things. It gave me a much better understanding of what Kentucky as a place is like and something that really informed the thinking about this show.”

The exhibit showcases women artists in Kentucky and the ways they use the idea of women and domesticity in their art. While each piece in the show is unique, they all tie into the exhibit as a whole and play their role in adding to its contemporary theme. “There are pieces that people are always drawn to, like Kristin Richards’ installation, Dawn.” said Goodman.

This piece is Dawn by Kristin Richards. Photo by Griffin Lutes.

Dawn is a striking piece of art because not only is it bright and bold in color, but also sends a powerful message. This piece consists of three dishwasher racks/baskets suspended from the ceiling by industrial lights. Attached to each basket is a houseplant that hangs down over a large, rectangular glass pool that is filled halfway full with a blue liquid. That liquid is Dawn dish soap. Goodman recalls, “I remember right after she [Richards] installed it before the show was even open, you could smell it walking into MFA and I remember thinking ‘oh my God that smell is so pungent.’ I like when art has smells because smell is the closest sense to memory.”

“I’ve been in the gallery with four different classes so far, and it’s the first one that every class wants to talk about, it was the first one people wanted to talk about at my curator’s talk last week, so this is the piece that is a public favorite.”

Dr. Emily Goodman

This unique exhibit has proven to be not only interesting/enlightening, but also engaging. “Since it’s been open, I think one of the things that’s been really amazing to see is different communities coming into that space” said Goodman. “It’s been really interesting to see the whole campus community come together around something.”
The viewer admires the painting Riverboat by artist Helen Lafrance. Also shown is Last Suppers by Jane Burch Cochran. Photo by Griffin Lutes.

“To have the artists around as part of it I think is really awesome.” On the subject of Kentucky artists, Goodman said she really enjoyed working with them and that “They are fantastic and amazing.”

Goodman also said, “One of the cool things about this project and one of the things that is really informing my new line of scholarship around it is Kentucky artists are very genuine to be in Kentucky and there are artists that are in the show who have gallery spaces in other places. Lori Larusso has shows in LA and New York, and Rae Goodwin has done a lot of stuff in other places, primarily in New York” Goodman said, “But there’s a very authentic Kentucky thing where most people who are in the show are happy that their practice is in Kentucky and they’re interested in getting the local community involved, and I think one of the things I found really interesting is that Kentucky has a very authentic craft culture, really into quilting, really into ceramics. And what I found, especially when we were in western Kentucky towards Paducah, art institutions of contemporary art over there and here really use that as a way to bring in the community, but not in an off-putting way.”

The exhibit was created out of Goodman’s dissertation research, and its focus on women’s work around certain themes. “I like that art is open and can be multiple things at the same time, and I wanted to show and think about that. When I first came last year, I met a bunch of women artists who are doing really interesting things that really fit with what I was interested in as a scholar and this idea of domesticity, of traditional femininity, of food, of housework, of all of these ideas.” Goodman said. “And Andrea Fisher let me play in Morlan Gallery” she added.

Pictured above is the piece by L.A. Watson, entitled A Bird At My Table. Photo by Griffin Lutes.

The difference between the New Domesticity exhibit and past ones is its ability to draw people in with its unique atmosphere, mainly stemming from the Dawn piece mentioned above, which seems to be a focal point. Goodman talked about how galaries are supposed to work in the sense that they want people to use their vision as a primary sense. Galleries are usually secluded away from things like street noise and outside smells. “There’s a reason why we use white cubes and kind of hang one thing at a time, it’s so you can get this very visual experience” said Goodman, “So whenever art has a smell, I love it because it totally changes, and it changes the other art that’s in there too.”

New Domesticity has been in the gallery since January 15th, and will remain until February 16th. Some of the pieces not featured in Morlan Gallery are being displayed at The Parachute Factory here in Lexington, which is a non-profit space where artists can display their work while engaging the surrounding community. New Domesticity will remain there until February 24th.

Lori Larusso’s works, Eating Animals (bugs, flying), Eating Animals (banana dolphins and mermaids), and Eating Animals (bugs crawling). Photo by Griffin Lutes.

The artists with work featured in this exhibit are Rae Goodwin, Helen LaFrance, Jennifer A. Reis, Stacey Chinn, Justine Riley, Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Lori Larusso, Bentley Utgaard, Colleen Merrill, Jane Burch Cochran,  Judith Pointer-Jia, L.A. Watson,  Diane Kahlo,  Stacey Reason, and Kristin Richards.

Mitchell Fine Arts’ Morlan Gallery is open on weekdays from noon-5 p.m. The Parachute Factory is open Wednesdays-Fridays from 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon-3 p.m.