As the recent New York Times article on the “men of Wellesley” made clear, gender is a can of worms. Certainly we get into deep water quickly when we view gender as predictive of future performance. But art exhibitions are about past performance, and insofar as art can be understood as the product of negotiation between an artist’s internal instincts and the external pressures and opportunities she encounters in the world, gender remains a viable rubric.
Woman and Print: A Contemporary View, an exhibition and eponymous catalogue organized by Scripps College last fall, has no political or ideological axe to grind. It makes no argument about how women’s work differs from men’s, nor do the works selected attempt to define what it means to be a woman or to be a woman artist. Each of the three catalogue essays draws a different thematic thread through a different subset of the included art. Mary McNaughton looks at prints that use science—its schematic structures and promises of cognitive mastery—as a touchstone, from Amanda Knowles’s futuristic geometries on plastic to J. Catherine Bebout’s romantic citations of cartography and natural history illustration. Sienna Brown articulates the link between the personal and the political, examining the social implications of autobiography in the work of artists such as Squeak Carnwath and Karen Oremus. Focusing on nature and the environment, Margaret Matthews-Berenson’s essay offers a bridge between the objective allure of science and the subjective power of individual experience, a topic that accommodates everything from Mary Schina’s gravures of the moonlit Aegean to Monica Furmanski’s digital remixes of the Costa Rican rainforest and Sylvia Lark’s numinous abstractions.