The most intriguing artistic dialogue taking place this summer occurs at the Baltimore Museum of Art where contemporary painter Tschabalala Self engages with Henri Matisse.
“By My Self” (until September 19) features 13 Self paintings, completed from 2016 to the present day, as well as two related sculptures, highlighting the artist’s ongoing reflection on the iconographic significance of the black female form in the contemporary culture. Among the works presented, a new suite of three paintings of a couple of women created in response to the sculpture by Henri Matisse Two women (1907-08; originally titled Two negresses) in the collection of the BMA.
The Baltimore Museum of Art has the largest collection of Matisse artwork in the world. While Self (b. 1990, Harlem, NY) was browsing the institution’s archives for her show, she took the opportunity to dig into their Matisse treasure. Two women hit her.
“He stood out for two reasons. The sculpture itself was beautifully rendered, and so was the title, ”Self told UKTN.com. “The title obviously spoke of the fact that the characters in the work represented two black women.”
Self, who made a name for himself on the contemporary art scene with his large-scale, loose, bulbous imaginations of the female figure was on the move.
“Every time you showcase an institutional exhibit, it represents a unique opportunity and potential challenge to face the history of the institution – the art within the institution’s collection,” Self said. “Now you are involved in this larger conversation about art history. I wanted to make the most of this opportunity. Matisse is an artist that I really formally identify with, his work is part of culture in general, and I feel like every artist has been inspired by Matisse because his work is so ubiquitous.
Increasingly, a new generation of artists will draw inspiration from Self with his work appearing in more and more museum collections. She found in her twenties what many artists never do, a unique language of tagging and subject matter instantly recognizable from across the room.
“I knew I had found my style by creating something that I had never seen before. I really think artists underestimate the importance of this, ”Self said. “So many artists are likely to simply emulate the work of people they admire and fail to understand how important it is for posterity to create something that truly stems from your own experimentation.”
Baltimore Museum of Art ‘2020 Vision’ Spotlight on Women Artists
The BMA caused a sensation in the art world when it announced at the end of 2019 that in 2020 it would only purchase works by female artists and that all of its exhibitions would be focused on women. Less than 5% of the 95,000 pieces in the museum’s permanent collection were created by women. As shocking as this statistic may sound, it is consistent with other leading institutions in the country.
Focusing on female artwork for just one year will not correct this imbalance. The BMA does not expect it.
According to Self, what is the best way for art museums to start correcting their historic record of excluding female artists?
“They just have to start one job at a time,” she said. “Also, sharing with the museum public that it’s something they are doing and declaring it publicly. The fact of publicly declaring the objectives of the institution holds them to account, any transparency on these objectives is equally important. Collecting and displaying works by newly acquired artists is also an important factor, often these things do not always go hand in hand.