The Feminine Sublime at PMCA

Installation view with works by Constance Mallinson and Yvette Gellis

Installation view with works by Constance Mallinson and Yvette Gellis

The Romantic notion of the sublime continues to haunt our consciousness, often accompanied by a healthy dose of critique. The concept, most famously articulated in the influential writings of Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, posits, in a simplified version, that a form might either delight the eye (the beautiful) or overwhelm the viewer through scale, power and grandeur (the sublime). In The Feminine Sublime, currently on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, five Los Angeles-based painters further explore this legacy in response to contemporary conditions. That these artists happen to be female, dealing with notions typically ascribed to their male counterparts, offers another layer to excavate.

In a book with which the exhibition shares its name, literary critic Barbara Claire Freeman exposes the gendered oppositions providing the foundation of Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry. She writes, “The sublime amalgamates such conventionally masculine qualities as power, size, ambition, awe, and majesty; the beautiful collects the equally conventional feminine traits of softness, smallness, weakness, docility, delicacy, and timidity.” Where Freeman primarily critiques literature, the current exhibition at PMCA, curated by artist and participant Constance Mallinson, offers a powerful challenge to Burke’s gendered investigation through the visual arts, in the form of landscape painting. While each artist offers an individual point of entry, collectively, Merion Estes, Yvette Gellis, Virginia Katz, Marie Thibeault and Mallinson effectively deconstruct Burke’s presuppositions. …

Read full article published in Fabrik (Spring 2018):


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