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Focus on women artists at OMCA

Through intense observation of the natural world, consumption, material culture, and waste, these California-based women artists approach their craft as a form of cultural critique. All of these artists’ works are currently on view at the Oakland Museum of California. Get tickets to see these four artists’ works and other California-based women artists.

Jenny Odell, Parking

Oakland-based artist Jenny Odell says, ”My work generally involves acts of close observation, whether it’s birdwatching, collecting screen shots, or trying to parse bizarre forms of e-commerce.”

In her piece, Parking, on view at OMCA’s You Are Here exhibit, Odell uses satellite images to expose the land most people never see because it is utilized to provide services like trash collection and water treatment.

Many of the processes that make modern life possible take place out of sight, but Odell’s work makes these landscapes visible. She made this artwork from an image of a junkyard in Oakland removing everything but the land used to dispose of old cars.

Odell says she is fascinated “by the ways in which attention (or lack thereof) leads to consequential (or subtle) shifts in perception at the level of the everyday.”

K. Lee Manuel, Collar

Fiber artist K. Lee Manuel considered herself a “painter of things to wear.”  Instead of painting things to hang on walls, she turned her paintings into capes, collars, handbags, belts, and gloves.

Manuel, who had an art studio high in the Santa Cruz mountains, was an important part of the wearable art movement which sought to make art a usable part of everyday life. She was widely known for her clothing and elaborate collars which featured hundreds of individually painted feathers.

Her artwear combines natural forms and shapes, archetypal stories, qualities and symbols from her own dreams. When she spoke about her art, she often talked about pulling ideas from the air or from somewhere deep in her own subconscious.

While painting elaborate designs on feathers, she made the unconscious observation that feathers resemble the skin on a snake so she instinctively began to paint snakeskin back onto the feathers to complete the loop.

For Manuel, turning her art into wearable objects is a very personal and overt way to share her work with a broader audience. Visitors can see this collar made by Manuel in 1993 in our Gallery of California Art.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled

Ruth Asawa, best known for her abstract wire sculpture, fused techniques of fiber art and metal sculpture into her dynamic, signature forms. This is a hanging wire sculpture that consists of two intertwined undulating forms and is on view at OMCA’s Gallery of California Art.

When asked what inspired her artwork, Asawa replied, “Well, I think just seeing how the water plays on plants will give you an idea to do something. And the spiral in a plant, or in a snail shell. Or you see how a thing grows here and here and here and it grows in between and it get[s] bigger or smaller. Those are all inspirations.”

Asawa was part of a self-sustaining artists’ colony in Sonoma County called Pond Farm. It was founded in the 1940s and many of the artists involved, including Asawa, were deeply influenced by the Bauhaus. They lived and breathed their art, and made it in nature.

Libby Black, Gucci Golf Bag

Libby Black, Berkeley-based painter, works in oil, gouache, and pencil, but is also a sculptural installation artist.

Black said, “My current work is based on imagery culled from disparate sources like fashion magazines, snapshots, newspapers, pop culture websites, television, movies and still lifes that I have staged. I am interested in having the work chart a path through personal history and a broader cultural context to explore themes of impermanence and identity.”

Black’s early works, such as Gucci Golf Bag, which is now on view in the Craft section of the Gallery of California Art, are explorations of luxury labels, high-end fashion motifs, and the glitzy emptiness of desire and greed.  

Celebrate Women’s History Month in March, or any month, by getting tickets to OMCA and seeing the inspiring art made by Califonia-based artists.