Rosemarie Castoro introduced surreal and sexual connotations to the cool, mathematical rigour of Minimalism; Lydia Okumura expanded the tradition of the Brazilian geometric avant-garde with her multi-dimensional abstract environments; and Wanda Czelkowska challenged artistic traditions by fusing anthropomorphic sculpture with brutalist, industrial structures. All three artists created an avant-garde inside the avant-garde, transcending the idea of one style in favour of radical experimentation. Guest curated by Anke Kempkes, a leading expert in the field of female avant-garde art, this landmark London exhibition spanning Ropac's entire gallery marks a further turning point at which female artists pioneered new art movements and subverted the avant-garde language of the time.
While their male contemporaries – including Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt – rose to international prominence, these revolutionary female artists were not afforded the same visibility and institutional support. Only now, in today’s shifting political and cultural landscape, is their ground-breaking work receiving widespread critical acclaim and greater recognition. All three artists have received their first major retrospectives within the last two years. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, staged Rosemarie Castoro. Focus at Infinity in 2017, Okumura received her first touring US retrospective in 2016, starting at UB Art Galleries, Buffalo, and Czelkowska’s first museum retrospective took place at the National Museum in Warsaw, also in 2016. Each of the three artists emerged from distinct cultural geographies: Castoro was one of the few female protagonists of the 1960s Minimal art scene in New York; Okumura, born to Japanese parents in São Paulo, challenged the 1960s Brazilian movement of Concretism; Czelkowska created her first sculptures as a student in 1950s Communist Poland during the last days of Stalinism. The exhibition focuses on works that break through geographic and stylistic boundaries, setting into motion a cultural dialogue between New York, São Paulo and Warsaw.
Expanding the traditional understanding of the history of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist art, their work shares a visionary engagement with scale and the experimental use of raw industrial materials, creating radical interventions in the gallery space. The show’s title references two pivotal sculptures created by Rosemarie Castoro in the 1970s: Land of Lads and Land of Lashes - the latter presenting a parade of giant epoxy eyelashes. The exhibition also prominently includes Lydia Okumura’s optical walk-in sculpture Labyrinth - a two-metre high installation of woven wire mesh - first realised at the Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo in 1984, and Wanda Czelkowska’s drawing in a space Ellipse, comprising a five-metre-wide aluminium structure that arcs through the gallery.
Modern sculpture’s use of industrial materials evokes a decidedly romantic notion of masculine middle class labor, one that artists like Jackson Pollock and Carl Andre used to posit themselves as the artistic “everyman.” This is why, perhaps more so than any other artistic medium, sculpture is wrought with gendered nuances and contradictions.