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Episode 45
Curator Andrea Karnes

  • 2 min read

Episode Description

A discussion with Andrea Karnes, Chief Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The museum will be debuting a new group exhibit later this month titled “Women Painting Women”. The show brings together more than forty female painters, including giants like Alice Neel and Faith Ringgold, mid-career artists like Jenny Saville and Amy Sherald, as well as up-and-coming female artists we should be taking note of. The portraits all fall into roughly four categories: The Body, Nature Personified, Color as Portrait, and Selfhood but all are paintings of women by women.


Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with Andrea Karnes, Chief Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The museum will be debuting a new group exhibit later this month titled "Women Painting Women". The show brings together more than 40 female painters, including giants like Alice Neel and Faith Ringgold, mid-career artists like Jenny Saville and Amy Sherald, as well as up and coming female artists we should be taking note of. The portraits all fall into roughly four categories: The Body, Nature Personified, Color as Portrait, and Selfhood, but are all paintings of women by women. And now, women through the eyes of women with Andrea Karnes.

Craig: [00:01:12] Andrea Karnes, thank you so much for joining me this week on the Art Science Podcast. Andrea, you have curated an upcoming show at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth called "Women Painting Women". How would you describe to the prospective guests what they're going to find when they visit the exhibition?

Andrea: [00:01:32] Well, that's such a good question. And first of all, thank you, Craig, for having me on. I'm thrilled to be here chatting with you. What I think is with a group exhibition, it's almost like there's something for everyone. At least that's what I hope. There's such a different energy when when we present a group show, then when it's a monographic show. And we've had many, many, many monographic shows in a row. So it was time for a big group show. I think that viewers will hopefully take away the idea that the definition of woman or what it means to be feminine-identifying and all these things, all these kinds of archetypes have shifted and changed. And so I think when you see the exhibition, you'll see every type of representation of what a woman is. Especially now that it's been shaken loose from its binary definitions.
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Craig: [00:02:37] That's a topic that kind of came up loosely in a previous episode when I was speaking with the artist Swoon. And that's the whole notion of the feminine versus the feminist. And I'm sure as a curator, you probably made a conscious decision between the two as you're bringing together this show.

Andrea: [00:03:00] You know, it's a hard one because in the beginning, I was just going to make the show about American women. And then there would have been a really big conversation about feminism. But when I decided to make it international, different things were happening globally at different times for different reasons. So it wasn't going to be something that I could latch on to in terms of the exhibition. There is a definite conversation within the exhibition about the feminist wave of the 1960s and forward, and there's a conversation about how that was largely a white woman's movement and that black women artists were sort of caught in the middle or not sure they wanted to be a part of that cause. So I think, there is definitely a conversation about feminism and then in terms of femininity, I think...again, like the definition of what it means to be a woman has opened up broadly. So queerness is represented in the exhibition. Also, just the the very archetypal tropes of objectified women are also broached by some artists. Some artists work within those tropes as a way of critiquing, and some artists work completely against those tropes as a way of critiquing. So there's kind of some of everything. I feel like there are multiple perspectives at every turn, which is why I think viewers can all find something they connect with or find something that feels disagreeable or weird or uncomfortable or I don't know, any of those things could happen. Any kind of emotion could come from these paintings because there are it's such a diverse group of who's represented and who's representing them.

Craig: [00:05:01] So when you're curating a show like this, are you looking for that diversity of perspectives or are you looking for like commonalities in a shared female perspective? Is that even such a thing? I mean, is there such a thing as shared female perspective or do we find that it's incredibly diverse?

Andrea: [00:05:22] So I think that question has been debated for a long time, for decades and decades, since probably the mid 20th century. If there was if there is a feminine esthetic or a feminine perspective. And I didn't really attempt to answer that question within the exhibition. But in terms of like shared or commonalities among the painters, I did divide the exhibition into four themes. So and that was just a way for me of organizing the exhibition, just looking for common threads. And at first, I thought I would make the exhibition American, as I said. But I also thought I would make it a historic exhibition, or at least a chronological exhibition. But the more I researched, the more I realized there are times in throughout history that women just weren't making paintings or figuration at certain times. Like, for example, in the '70s and '80s, really even '60s, '70s and '80s, women were women. Artists, for the large part, were working with photography and performance, not painting. So to do a chronological exhibition, there would have been some holes, some pretty big holes. So I decided to arrange the exhibition thematically. So that's a long way of answering your question, really. But yes, there are definite commonalities. I divided into four themes, but the themes are fluid and almost any one of the artists could be in a different theme than they're than they're discussed within. And I said that pretty clearly in both the catalog and the introductory panel to the exhibition.

Craig: [00:07:20] Can we can we back up and kind of talk about how a show like this even starts in your mind? I mean, at some point you came up with the concept, did you immediately start making a list of artists that you wanted to include or how does it start at the very beginning?

Andrea: [00:07:38] Yes, I was in the beginning I was collecting images of paintings. I mean, collecting meaning like maybe printing them or whatever. If I was or making a copy of out of a book and just thinking about certain artists and what they might have in common. And then I kind of narrowed it down to women, which sounds weird, but I mean, in the beginning I was thinking that men might be in the exhibition, too. And there are some there are some men in some of the paintings, but I wasn't sure what I was doing in the beginning. I was just collecting images. And then really, this is a pandemic exhibition when we all got shut in. The first time I went home with went home one day at the end of March with, or middle of March, with a whole bunch of files. And the one for "Women Painting Women" was one of those files. And just in thinking of what I could do research wise from home, I started to like the idea more and more of an exhibition of women painters who paint women as subject matter. Because I had seen a lot of the women's work in person, like almost all of them. And since we couldn't go anywhere at that time, I wasn't able to go do studio visits with artists.

Andrea: [00:09:06] It seemed like a good moment to focus on a bunch of artists whose work I already knew, and then I could just do more research from home to figure out the premise of the exhibition. And I think, you know, it was a strange time on the one hand, because we couldn't go have personal interaction. I couldn't with the artists, but just knowing their works gave me a leg up. Like I wouldn't have been able to do an exhibition of someone's work who I didn't know very well or didn't know at all or anything during that time. But besides it being a pandemic exhibition, I think it just felt like a really good moment to think about how far women artists have come in the last roughly five decades. And that was because I, I read an article, I don't know where it was, art news or something, just mentioning that Linda Nochlin's seminal essay "Why have there been no great women artists?" was turning 50? And so that because that article was 50 years old, it seemed like a good moment to just think, well, maybe we should just take the temperature on why have there been no great women artists or are there great women artists now? Kind of thing. I mean, her article that title is tongue in cheek, of course. I mean, it's saying that that women artists weren't given the same shot as male artists. And, you know, the notion of genius is really based on education and access, but just kind of starting with that idea. And wanting to look back at women artists. It seemed like like I said, it seemed like a good moment, especially because the whole idea of a woman is becoming more and more inclusive. So, it felt like a good moment to look at that. And also, because of all of the kind of implicit whiteness, even in the middle of the 20th century, with both the subjects of paintings and the viewers of paintings, the gazer and the gazed upon, there's kind of been an implicit whiteness, and I think that has also opened up dramatically since the mid-20th century. So I wanted to take a look at that as well, and how women artists are kind of dealing with subjects such as race and identity and gender and sexuality.

Craig: [00:11:54] One of my recent guests was an author, Farah Nayeri and her book was kind of chronicling all the nagging issues in the art world. And this was one of the ones that that we talked about. And, you know, she was quoting numbers that said that the female artist represents less than 10% of the holdings in the museums. And so is a show like this, does does it advance the ball towards reconciling that inequality?

Andrea: [00:12:23] Well, I hope so. What I will say about that is I think it's being reconciled globally right now. And a lot of the women in this exhibition, for example. What I was trying to do, just as a very simplistic exercise, was find the most compelling painting by each artist and ask to borrow it for the exhibition, most compelling painting of a woman painted by a woman and a couple of I had to rework that a few times because a lot of these women artists, especially the trailblazers, are having major retrospectives right now. Right. Like Alice Neel, for example, hers was at the Met. Now it's traveled to the Pompidou in Paris. Joan Semmel. I do have the Joan Semmel that I wanted, but I had to negotiate with Philadelphia because they're closing the show right when I'm trying to open this show. A retrospective of her work. Many others, actually. Oh, Faith Ringgold has a big three floor show up at the New Museum in New York. So I think that I mean, I don't know about within permanent collections, but in terms of women getting airplay that they didn't get before, I think it's happening now.

Craig: [00:13:51] Do you think that we're seeing a quickening of that since the MeToo movement, since the events of George Floyd? I mean, are we seeing that programing is reflecting more female voices, more minority voices? Would this show have bubbled up to the top in this state, say, ten years ago?

Andrea: [00:14:20] You know, that's a hard question to answer. Yes. I think that there are more exhibitions like this currently. But also if you look at our exhibition history for the last, you can go back further than ten years. We've always had really diverse programing at the Modern and I mean, I can't speak for every museum, but we really have. I think that we have other issues, like we don't have much diversity on the staff which we're trying to work on now and things like that. I'm not saying we're perfect by anything, but I am saying that we have a just a proven track record of diversity here and it goes back much farther than ten years. So I think it's a hard question for me to answer. I do think I would have done this exhibition anyway, and I've focused a lot of my career, not all, but a lot of my career on women artists. So that part comes really naturally. And just looking at surveying the women who paint women, I think the checklist would have been what it is. No matter what. It's what I think. It's a hard it's a hard question to answer. It's a good question.

Craig: [00:15:38] Going back to the the point of how it came together. In your mind, it started with particular paintings versus particular artists or it was it kind of hand in hand?

Andrea: [00:15:52] It was kind of well, it was more the artist probably actually. And then the paintings. My next thing was, what's their most compelling painting of a woman? You know.

Craig: [00:16:02] I would imagine that curating an exhibit like this, a group show, would be pretty exciting because it provides you an opportunity to maybe engage with artists that maybe you've been admiring from afar and now you have an excuse to to engage with them. I mean, do you find that to be the case?

Andrea: [00:16:26] Yes. I mean, it's a group group exhibitions are a little strange in that a lot of times you can get a lot more focused attention from an artist if it's a one person show. Of course, a group show is a little harder in that way because you don't have to even engage with the artist. You can just borrow a work from another museum or a collector and put it in the show. But what I tried to do, almost across the board, I mean, I did do it with all the living artists is. Make sure they all knew that I was doing this show and that I wanted to borrow works of theirs and make sure they all wanted to be in the show. And so I'm, I think I did a pretty good job of that. Sometimes I worked through their galleries, sometimes I contacted them directly, but a lot of them are coming to the opening, which makes me happy. A lot of the younger ones and it seems like they're all really happy to be in the exhibition and I wasn't sure how that was going to go because sometimes people don't want to be pigeonholed, like even the word woman in the title could be considered, like potentially if they're thinking, "oh, I don't want to only be in shows that are about women artists" or whatever it would be. But they all were thrilled. And I think for the younger ones, what's thrilling is because it's not a chronological exhibition. Their works will be hanging alongside the trailblazers in the exhibition. So they feel like they're going to be in a conversation with Alice Neal and Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold. And I think that's exciting to younger artists.

Craig: [00:18:13] Sure. Can you tell us about some of those up and comers that have been included? Because I mean, you're right. There are names like Amy Sherald and Marlene Monde, Jenny Saville included. And then there are these that you're maybe essentially introducing us to. And can you kind of tell us about a few of those?

Andrea: [00:18:34] Sure. I wanted to include some younger women artists. And when I say younger, I mean young in career. I'm not talking about their age necessarily, but with less exposure. Because one thing that I think I've always tried to do is bring artists to a new audience here. And so. Or bring bring our audience new artists. I don't know how to say that the best way, but so I wanted to include artists like Claire Cabaret. She's a painter who is French from Paris, but currently lives in L.A., has lived in L.A. for a decade or more, makes incredibly gorgeous paintings. Some have men, some have women. But the one that we chose for this exhibition is a group. It's a fencing team. It's actually, it's an Iranian fencing team before the revolution. So that was the source photograph. Anyway, she changed it. It's not true to the photograph, but her idea is just to see how women interact spatially and physically when they're on a team together. So it's like, that was really interesting to me. And then an artist like Apollonius Sokol. Sokol has created a painting based on Botticelli's springtime painting. But it's transwomen. And I think, you know, there's something very interesting about including transwomen in the exhibition. And to get...I mean, I think there's something about gender and performance that happens in that painting. I've heard Sokol say that she's trying not to fetishize. These are just matter of fact. But I think what that painting in particular points to is that we are all performing our gender no matter what our anatomy is.

Craig: [00:20:46] It's very insightful. And, you know, yeah, I mean, we all have gender roles and gender stereotypes and, you know, a lot of people try to stay, you know, smack in the middle of their stereotype to to avoid, you know, any any notice. Right. And so.

Andrea: [00:21:05] Right. So I thought that was like she just brought something really interesting to the table talking about kind of bringing up that point that we're all performing gender no matter how we're born, no matter what gender we're we're born into or what anatomy and. I mean, there are many others, Christiane Lyons. That painting is so gorgeous and graphic and it's called Yayoi, which is an homage to the Japanese painter and artist. I can't say her name. Kusama. I can't say. Yeah, Yayoi Kusama.

Craig: [00:21:53] It's not our native language, but we try the best we can.

Andrea: [00:21:56] Right. But I should be able to say it. She's created this painting that's an homage to another woman artist. But the image is made up of several women that she sort of composites together to make one woman. So there are a bunch of different skin tones. There are bunch of different views. They're all looking in kind of a different direction. They have different clothes on, but they make up this one woman. And it's a very powerful image, but it comes out of these images from fashion magazines and like Instagram influencers and social media. So it comes out of these images that are directly objectifying women. But somehow when Christiane creates a composite woman of all of them, it's like she takes the power back. They're very...they become these very powerful figures. So I just I think all of these younger artists are or younger and career or whatever are descendants from all of the ones, the forerunners. And so I just felt like it was an interesting thing to have them in conversation with each other. And the ones like you mentioned who are mid-career, like Amy Sherald and Mickalene Thomas and Lisa Yuskavage and even Marilyn Minter, and these women are they're also trailblazers for the younger women in the exhibition.

Craig: [00:23:18] Is there a particular work that you really had your heart set on and when you found out you were able to get it for the exhibit you're really excited about? I mean, is there there are one that you're like, I really need this one to come through to feel like I've got an A-plus on my job here.

Andrea: [00:23:37] I mean, it is such a hard question because it's like it's like a Sophie's Choice question. I'm excited for every single one of them to be loved. There are a couple I didn't get that broke my heart. I will say that.

Craig: [00:23:51] Well, we'll go there. So what broke your heart?

Andrea: [00:23:54] Well, Faith Ringgold has that a large scale exhibition right now. And so the ones I initially asked for, and I'm not going to say what they were were granted, and then it was retracted for that big exhibition, which is totally fair. It's totally understandable, 100%. But then I had to I had to pick another one, and that's totally fine. But it's not a major work in that case. And it is because all of her major works are in that retrospective, as they should be. It's just a timing thing. And with Alice Neel, because of her retrospective too, I had to I worked with her gallery and I found it. I found an amazing one. But I it wasn't the one I initially wanted or you know what I mean? That happened a couple of times. But again, all for good reasons. It's because they're all having or those women are having retrospectives. And so their major works are tied up with the retrospective. And I will say I was holding my breath on the Amy Sherald painting that I wanted that is on the cover of the catalog and in the exhibition. And I got it. So that was one that I was I was like, "yes, thrilled," you know, but most of them are the ones I wanted. So it's I think it worked out actually pretty well in that way.

Craig: [00:25:15] It's only paintings. Like you said, it could have gone into photography. It could have gone into 3-D. Why at the end of the day, did we limit ourselves to only paintings? Does it have something to do with the male patriarchy that's kind of associated with painting?

Andrea: [00:25:34] Yes, it has to do with that. Painting has traditionally been kind of a privileged medium for white men. And so. It wasn't always so open to women. I mean, women couldn't even enter. Linda Nochlin talks about this and why have there been no great women artists? But women weren't even allowed to paint from nude models, you know, or they didn't have so. Because of the position of painting and its privileged position. I thought it would be interesting to look at that. If I wanted to do a feminist exhibition in particular, I would have opened it up to all all media. But I wasn't trying to rewrite the history of feminism necessarily. I was just trying to look at what women have been doing across one medium that is most associated in the western canon of art history with white men.

Craig: [00:26:39] So the exhibition you mentioned, it's reflecting four themes. Is it a matter of you collected all of these images in your head and then you found that they kind of fit these silos? Or did you kind of have these themes in mind as you went?

Andrea: [00:26:57] Well, now, I didn't really have this neither. I don't know that I would say, I try not to to pigeonhole or whatever. So what I was doing is just looking for broad themes that are pretty much interchangeable. Like I said, the themes are all fluid. Any single woman you could name is in the exhibition, I could argue for every single theme for for that artist to be in any of the themes. So I will say that, but the themes really came out of me just like trying to organize the essay and the exhibition and in my head or on paper. So the themes are nature personified, and that is basically connecting women to as a metaphor for the earth or goddesses and priestesses, the kind of earthly connections, but also the mystical connections. And then the body is one theme. I mean, again, all of them could fit into that category. And selfhood is one theme and that's really about interiority. So it's about depictions of women that that reflect a kind of introverted moment. Or a psychology that is kind of interior. And then the other, the fourth theme is color as identity, and it's about using color to portray a mood or to tell something about identity.

Craig: [00:28:37] You know, we're about three weeks out. So you haven't started hanging yet, I assume. Will you hang according to those themes or how do. And so right now, are you working with thumbnails and scale models of your space to kind of figure out the sightlines there? Or what does that process look like for you? Because...

Andrea: [00:29:02] So I have a whiteboard and I have macquettes that are scaled to the whiteboards. There's two white boards, one on one of each of our floors of gallery spaces, and the gallery spaces are demarcated with adhesive vinyl that's on the whiteboards. And then I have maps that are scaled to the spaces and they have magnets on them. So that's sort of the the way we start here. I mean, it's a two dimensional process. We can't. Our building is so big now. And the old building, we had a foam core model. But this building is so big, it would take up like a whole room to do that. So. So we do the white boards instead. And I usually puzzle that out for a long time before the paintings ever get here, which I've been doing. And it never works out exactly on paper or in person like it does on paper, which is fine with me, because that's the exhilarating part, is when you have to figure out those pieces of the puzzle when everything is actually here in person. But I have designated the rooms, like what rooms will be which theme? And then I have placed the maquettes within the rooms where I think they'll go. But like I said, there'll be a lot of juggling and moving around once the works are here in person. But that's how the process starts. And that helps the other people, the installation crew and the people who create the works. I mean, the people who intake the works, that helps them figure out what gallery to even open a crate in or, you know, that kind of thing.

Craig: [00:30:47] So the show is May 15th to September 25th, if I have my dates right. And so that's right around the corner. And if people wanted more information about viewing the work online or purchasing the catalog or buying tickets or, you know, information about the opening, where's the best place to send someone?

Andrea: [00:31:14] Well, the best place would be at And we usually have everything pretty well laid out there in terms of programing and tours and exhibition dates and all of those things.

Craig: [00:31:32] Andrea, I really appreciate your time today. I really can't wait to to see the exhibit. And I really appreciate you taking time out of your afternoon to talk to me about your vision. And congratulations on the culmination of a lot of hard work.

Andrea: [00:31:50] Thank you. I really am so excited to start getting I'm just ready for everything to be hung and the doors to be open.

Craig: [00:31:56] Right, exactly.

Craig: [00:32:02] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art since you can find the show on Apple Podcast, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features, you can go to and click on the "podcast" tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at Thanks for listening.

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