ArtHelix is pleased to present a group exhibition of black and white photography by Angela Strassheim and Jackie Cantwell, curated by Gallery Director Peter Hopkins.
The art world is full of stories of newly discovered Masterworks found by chance after silently languishing for years, or decades in attics, basements, and long unopened boxes. The truth is that most art ever created is actually meant to die this way. Very few art works will ever find an audience. To pick out those few from the vast ocean of the discarded that may have been unduly consigned to neglect requires a keen eye, and a willingness to look hard and unflinchingly at something long left in the dark. Recently forty-three years of indifference was undone to 3 simple black and white photographs found in such a box. Now we must try here to decide if this “discovery” is worth our time.
This past September Jackie Cantwell was looking through the heaped contents of her Mother, Linda Cantwell’s belongings. She was trying to find the missing pieces that could explain how a young and promising art student with a girlish face (her Mom), but a fierce gaze, had chosen the life of a working middle class woman with 2 kids and an artist husband. Where had her aspirations gone? Was the “career” she had forsaken even a possibility. Had she chosen for herself, or had the “choice” actually been asentence with no choice whatsoever? So on this day she was not simply rummaging randomly, but rather searching for evidence. She was deciding if the mystery she was seeking to unravel was a “murder”, a “suicide”, or more likely simply “willful negligence”.
Jackie Cantwell decides to respond to her mother’s “questions” by inserting herself into that question. Photographed by Maya Meissner, Jackie re-creates the 3 works and presents them to her Mom as a Christmas gift. This gift is also meant to be a provocative act. “Mom, what happened to you”?
Angela Strassheim is a very successful artist. She is also now expecting her second child. This is important, because while it seems to others Angela “has it all” she like most artists knows that there is no such thing as stability in the art world. Her life has changed since she began making her now iconic photographs. Mostly for the good, of course, but doubt is a crucial component of all great artists, and Angela is a great artist. How has her changed life changed her work? Is motherhood and an art career, even for those with means, as incommensurate now as it was for Linda Cantwell and other first generation feminists? Angela then becomes the second point on the continuum of this dialogue.
If Linda Cantwell is the “hidden” subject from the shadows being interrogated by the emerging daughter, then Angela is the culmination of the process looking backwards, even as she confidently asserts her place in the present. In her recent move from one studio to another and her own relocation to a new home she too “lost” or had misplaced a large body of works. These too are black and white photographs. They are 4×5 polaroids made as “tests” for her series of finished photographs that now hang in many museums, and are deservedly reproduced in high quality catalogs available for all. These photographs, never exhibited before, show younger women in states of quiet turmoil and veiled risk, capturing the crucial time when girls and young women begin to claim the shifting nature of their own identities. These Polaroids are unique one-off magical moments that got stored away in the dark, and thus, in a way these works were also forgotten. Not because they had been deemed unworthy of an audience, but weirdly, because the later works on which these photographs rested were so successful that they had become pushed back into the dark.
“The art world is overflowing with carefully curated, thoughtful, thematically consistent, dreadfully safe and boring shows. This is one more risky. Is it a mother-daughter therapy session masquerading as a thesis, or an entitled, self-congratulatory panel chat? Maybe both…or neither. The photographs here are all beautiful and powerful. The artists are proud of them, and they do not care if we like them. I asked a question, and now must step back and listen, and for now that’s enough.”
– Peter Hopkins, NYC, January, 2016