Included is From The Black Space II, a major 26-foot long, 7-panel work painted in 1977. Exhibited as well are recent paintings and a group of portraits of the artist’s New York friends and acquaintances.
Juanita McNeely’s savage figurative expressionism is central to the development of feminist art in the 1960 and 1970s. However, such otherwise inclusive surveys of feminist art as Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution at LA MOCA and P.S.1 in 2006 did not include her paintings (as they omitted work by other feminist artists like Judith Bernstein, Anita Steckel, and Betty Tompkins whose work may have appeared too transgressive). A notable recent exception is Indomitable Spirit, a survey of McNeely’s prolific 50-year career curated by Susan Metrican at Brandeis University’s Women’s Study Research Center in 2014.
The unfamiliarity of McNeely’s oeuvre is due, in part, to the power of her imagery. McNeely’s paintings are strange, violent and beautiful. The artist admits that “I…Make paintings that are difficult to look at, much less deal with. These subjects continue to be the focus of my ‘still lifes’: life, death, birth, pain and women’s struggles…my experiences.” McNeely’s deep humanism and personal connection to the corporeal circumstances particular to women were qualities which may have been perceived as insufficiently theory-driven in the politicized crucible of early feminist art. McNeely’s art may also have been too disturbing and direct to be politically useful in illuminating a developing feminist doctrine. Additionally, like much early feminist art, McNeely’s paintings were largely ignored by the gallery system, finding a venue only in the cooperative galleries. In addition to the Brandeis show, the current exhibition follows a 2006 exhibition at this gallery, as well as McNeely’s inclusion in Painters of Modern Life, a 2014 group show at The Box gallery in Los Angeles.