Art, Music and Feminism in the 1950s

January 21, 2023 - May 7, 2023

Art, Music & Feminism in the 1950s features only women artists working during this unique decade in American history and the world. In the 1950s, the post-war economic boom was in full swing. Employment for women was on the rise, yet many women who had taken jobs left vacant by men fighting in World War II returned to their lives at home, and marriage rates increased. The 1950s were a complicated period of change for women. Their discontent and resulting actions contributed to the social tumultuousness of the 1960s. Leaning against social, racial, and economic barriers, women helped reshape our society in meaningful ways with lasting progress.

This exhibition focuses on the art and music produced by women of the era and shows how their personal passions inspired new prospects for women artists in subsequent decades. Some of the visual artists hold true to American figurative traditions, while others venture deep into abstraction. Individually and collectively, their voices are powerful testaments to the uniqueness of the moment.

Using works from the KIA collection and loans from museums and private collectors, four themes will guide visitors through the exhibition. The first, “Her View of the World,” explores Social Realism of the 1950s and art that reveals distinct perspectives establishing their voices in the art world. It examines the works of pioneering artists such as Marion Greenwood and Lola Alvarez Bravo. Both women were exceptional among their generation for the breadth of their insightful representation of racially and ethnically diverse communities. Second, “The Canvas Ceiling” addresses obstacles to women in the art world. By discussing race and gender, this section brings forward the work of Mary Abbott, Perle Fine, Olga Albizu, and others; all were well known in certain art circles, yet overlooked regarding exhibition opportunities and reviews. “Sheroes,” examines the trailblazers who modeled excellence for artists and women in future decades, either by their art or by the freedom in which they lived their lives. Diverse artists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Lois Mailou Jones, Ruth Asawa and Helen Frankenthaler, brought deeply personal perspectives to art-making, changing the art of their time with innovative painting techniques and subjects. Finally, “She’s Making a Comeback” presents rarely seen works by artists such as Catherine Hinkle and Maybelle Richardson Stamper. These regionally known artists (and some largely unknown) during the 1950s are being re-discovered and explored for their inventive ideas.

Art, Music, & Feminism in the 1950s uncovers some of the often-underestimated influences of women by exploring issues regarding gender roles, identity, and personal freedoms. The presentation reveals how women artists of the 1950s played a pivotal role in opening new pathways for women in the 1960s and beyond. The experience is layered with insights into women’s impacts on 1950s literature and music.

Perle Fine, The Sea's Throat, 1954, oil on canvas; Courtesy of Berry Campbell Gallery.
Olga Albizu, Untitled, 1959, oil on canvas. Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, Museum Purchase, The Dorothy Johnston Towne (Class of 1923) Fund.