May Stevens: Big Daddy
While on my way back from the Neue Galerie about a month ago (this image post is somewhat overdue and I apologize), I happened upon another space on Fifth Avenue (aka Museum Mile) called the National Academy Museum and School. I had never heard of this particular museum before, but what made me stop and investigate further was a sign promoting their current show, Women’s Work, which features selections from the museum’s permanent collection by Mary Cassatt, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Louise Bourgeois, Dorothea Rockburne and many others. Also, what other show would be more perfect to write about for a blog celebrating the lives of women artists?! I went back to see the show on Saturday, June 16th and was extremely glad that I did.
The museum does not look like it takes up a lot of space, but there are four floors with multiple galleries as well as studio spaces for students, a print shop, school administration offices and two galleries in the back to display student and faculty work. The National Academy, founded in 1825, is modeled after the Royal Academy in London and strives to “promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.” It is the only museum of its kind that integrates a museum, art school and an association of artists and architects dedicated to preserving the history of American art.
There are numerous pieces in the show that I would like to discuss here, but the work which moved me the most were the paintings by artist and social activist May Stevens. Born in 1924 in Dorchester, MA, May Stevens devoted her entire life and artwork to raising awareness about issues such as racism, imperialism, war and sexism, to name a few. She was a prominent figure during the 1960s Feminist movement and also protested against the Vietnam War through her paintings. Her Big Daddy series is a prime example of how she used art as a platform to voice her thoughts concerning women’s issues and the war. Below are some images of her work from the series.
Later on in her career, she started using more words in her paintings, saying that, “Words are everywhere. When I use (them) in my paintings, they describe some of the ideas and emotions that make up that painting. But as they become illegible, they give up their identity to become a thread, a tone, a sound, a passage that is a vital element in the configuration but not necessarily one that is individually distinguishable.”
Big Daddy with Hats, 1969, Acrylic on canvas
Big Daddy Paper Doll, 1970, Acrylic on canvas
Big Daddy Draped, 1971, Acrylic on canvas
Pax Americana, 1973, Acrylic on canvas
Big Three, 1975, Acrylic on canvas
 Moira Roth, “The Art of May Stevens,” Persimmon Tree Magazine (Issue 11), accessed July 12, 2012, http://www.persimmontree.org/articles/Issue11/articles/MayStevens_Paintings.php.