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Alexis Smith

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) Announces Exhibitions of Trailblazing Female Artists

After a major expansion by Selldorf Architects, MCASD inaugurates its La Jolla flagship with an exhibition repositioning revolutionary French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle in art history, concurrent with the first solo museum exhibition of the late Yolanda López, followed by the first retrospective of California artist Alexis Smith in over 25years, and first retrospective of conceptual artist Celia Alvarez Muñoz.

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is pleased to announce the reopening of its La Jolla flagship building to the public on April 9, 2022, following a major four-year renovation by Selldorf Architects. Since the Museum’s founding n 1941, MCASD has evolved into a leading visual arts organization with two distinct locations, situated in the coastal community of La Jolla and in the heart of downtown San Diego. This year, both locations will feature solo exhibitions by trailblazing women artists, including the current exhibition of the late Yolanda López (1942-2021) at MCASD Downtown, and a forthcoming surveyof the early work of Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) that will inaugurate the expanded La Jolla flagship, followed by retrospectives of Alexis Smith(b.1949) and Celia Alvarez Muñoz (b.1937)

Kathryn Kanjo, David C. Copley Director and CEO, comments: “At this moment, when the museum’s historical collection is highlighted, we have deliberately focused our special exhibitions on the work of trailblazing women artists from the recent past. Following the critical success of Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist at our Jacobs building downtown, we’re thrilled to inaugurate our expanded La Jolla building by Selldorf Architects with solo exhibitions of Niki de Saint Phalle and Alexis Smith. These presentations and their accompanying catalogs advance new scholarship for these underexamined artists and will be a revelation to today’s audiences.”

Niki de Saint Phalle

On April 9, MCASD will inaugurate its new galleries with Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s, the first exhibition to focus on the experimental and prolific work of revolutionary French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) during this pivotal decade. Co-presented by The Menil Collection in Houston, the exhibition explores a transformative ten-year period in Saint Phalle’s work when she embarked on two of her most significant series: the Tirs, or “shooting paintings,” and the exuberant sculptures of women she called Nanas, bringing together major paintings, assemblages, and sculptures from this prolific chapter in the artist’s career, as well as extensive film and photographic documentation from the artist’s archives.

Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s opens with the artist’s Tirs, which she created using a .22 caliber rifle. Often standing in front of an audience, Saint Phalle and invited participants would shoot at white plaster surfaces that concealed embedded bags of pigment or cans of paint, which would explode upon impact. Saint Phalle explained that her intention was “to make a painting bleed.” Her paradoxical method of creating a work through destruction was intended as commentary on the ingrained violence of the culture, as well as a feminist assault the tradition of modern painting.

In 1964, after only a few years of creating the Tirs, Saint Phalle turned to the representation of the female body. Her initial large, figural assemblages confront the traditional and contradictory gender roles that Saint Phalle believed confined and endangered women. These works include goddesses, witches, monsters, a Hollywood starlet, and a larger-than-life bride immobilized by a voluminous dress and veil. In 1965, Saint Phalle developed the Nanas, the name a playful appropriation of a French slang term for “girl.” Embracing a radical ethos of joy, Saint Phalle’s increasingly liberated female forms—with outstretched arms and athletic poses–seem to herald the rise of international feminist movements.

Jill Dawsey, PhD, Senior Curator, comments: “With their rambunctious life force, the Nanas became a
vehicle for the artist’s exploration of women’s freedom and mobility in the public realm. Saint Phalle
continuously experimented with their scale, using her figures to envision how women might, quite literally,
take up more space in the world. Her work presaged ideas and modes of making that would be
elaborated by feminist artists in the 1970s and beyond.”

Yolanda Lopez

When MCASD reopens its doors, simultaneously on view at the MCASD Downtown campus through April 24 will be Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist, the first solo museum exhibition for Yolanda López (1942-2021), the pathbreaking artist, activist, and educator whose career in California spanned five decades. López, who passed away in early September, was celebrated for her role in the Chicano art movement and for her iconic Guadalupe series.

Jill Dawsey, Senior Curator, comments: “The exhibition takes its title from López’s most beloved work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is a tongue-in-cheek reference to James Joyce’s coming-of-age novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. López diverts that narrative, with its focus on white, Catholic, male genius, and supplants it with a heroic vision of Chicana womanhood. Our show demonstrates how López used portraiture as a strategy for visualizing a larger collective body, offering her own likeness as an emblem of collective empowerment. The artist frequently used herself and her family members as models in her conceptual drawing projects of the 1970s, bringing visibility to Chicana women of distinct roles and life stages through strikingly unsentimental, often larger-than-life portraits.

Alexis Smith

In the Fall of 2022, MCASD will present Alexis Smith: The American Way, the first retrospective of the
California artist in over twenty-five years. Situated alongside movements of Conceptual and Pop art and shaped by the Feminist movements of the 1970s, Smith’s extensive work in collage provokes critical thought about the reality of contemporary American culture. Just as the artist herself is famously known to have taken on the moniker of actress Alexis Smith, The American Way presents stories of self-realization and self-transformation, systems central to the creation of the American ideal, and highlights the themes that have persisted throughout the artist's body of work, including her interests in gender, identity, and class.

Anthony Graham, Associate Curator
, comments: “Alexis Smith has long been considered a central figure of art in Los Angeles and has continued to have an impactful presence in the region–and yet, her work has not received the attention that it deserves. Situated alongside movements of Conceptual and Pop art and shaped by the Feminist movements of the 1970s, Smith's singular career working in collage expands our understanding of American art and provokes us to think critically on the culture we share.”

Celia Alvarez Muñoz

In Spring 2023, MCASD will present the first career retrospective of Conceptual artist Celia Alvarez Muñoz (b.1937, El Paso, TX). Spanning forty years, this major exhibition features over thirty-five artworks—including large-scale immersive installations, photographic series, and book projects— highlighting the artist’s playful, witty style, often characterized by her use of bilingual puns and mistranslations in both text and image. Muñoz often draws inspiration from her lived experience as a resident of the United States-Mexico borderlands. The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color publication.

Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s
On view April 9 - July 17, 2022
Press Preview: April 5, 2022
MCASD, 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s is co-curated by Jill Dawsey, PhD, Senior Curator, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Michelle White, Senior Curator, the Menil Collection. The show is accompanied by a catalogue that features archival images, essays, and commentary on Saint Phalle’s legacy during this decade. Distributed by Yale University. Price $50. 248 pages, 135 color + b/w illus., 7 1/4 x 10 inches. ISBN: 9780300260106.

Major funding for this exhibition at the Menil Collection is provided by Cecily E. Horton; a gift in memory of Virginia P. Rorschach; Bettie Cartwright; and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Dragonfly Collection, Garance Primat; MaryRoss Taylor; Julie and John Cogan, Jr.; Robin and Andrew Schirrmeister; MCT Fund; Niki Charitable Art Foundation; UBS Financial Services and the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.

Lead support and major funding is made possible through the generous support of La Prairie. Support for this exhibition at both the Menil Collection and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is provided by Christie’s. Institutional support of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. Research for this exhibition was supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist
On view October 16, 2021 - April 24, 2022
MCASD Downtown, 1100 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist
is organized by MCASD Curator Jill Dawsey, PhD and made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Institutional Support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund. This exhibition is part of the Feminist Art Coalition, a national platform for art projects that seek to generate cultural awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action. Working collectively, art museums and nonprofit institutions from across the United States will present concurrent events beginning in the fall of 2020.

Alexis Smith: The American Way
Opening September 16, 2022 - February 3, 2023
MCASD, 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037


Alexis Smith: The American Way
is organized by MCASD Associate Curator Anthony Graham, with funding provided by MCASD’s International and Contemporary Collectors. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog that provides the most substantial publication of the artist’s work since the 1990s.

Celia Alvarez Muñoz
March 18, 2023 - August 18, 2023
MCASD, 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037


This exhibition of Celia Alvarez Muñoz is organized by MCASD Assistant Curator Isabel Casso and Kate Green, PhD and made possible by gifts to the annual operating fund. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.

ABOUT MCASD:
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is the region’s foremost forum devoted to the exploration and presentation of the art of today. Open since 1941, we welcome all audiences to reflect on their lives, communities, and the ever-changing world through the powerful prism of contemporary art. Between two MCASD locations — one in the heart of downtown San Diego and the other in the coastal community of La Jolla — we showcase an internationally-recognized collection. MCASD’s dynamic exhibition schedule features a vast array of media in an unprecedented variety of spaces, along with a growing dedication to community experiences and public programs. As a cultural hub, MCASD seeks to catalyze conversation in our region.

IMAGES:
1.) Entrance of the new MCASD. Photo credit: studio MAHA. Courtesy of MCASD. 2.) Niki de Saint Phalle, Madame, or Green Nana with Black Bag, 1968. Painted polyester, 101 9/16 × 60 5/8 × 25 9/16 in. (258 × 154 × 65 cm). Private collection, Courtesy of Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris. © Niki Charitable Art Foundation. All rights reserved. Photo: André Morain. 3.) Niki de Saint Phalle, Pirodactyl over New York, 1962. Paint, plaster, and objects on two wood panels, 98 3/8 × 122 × 11 3/4 in. (249.9 × 309.9 × 29.8 cm). Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. © Niki Charitable Art Foundation. All rights reserved. 4.) Yolanda López, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, from the Guadalupe series, 1978. Oil pastel and paint on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the Yolanda López Legacy Trust. 5.) Alexis Smith, Your Name Here, 1975. Mixed media, 21 x 34 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist. 6.) Celia Alvarez Muñoz, Petrocuatl, 1988. Courtesy of the artist.

VISIT:
MCASD, 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
MCASD Downtown, 1100 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101
https://www.mcasd.org

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PRESS CONTACTS:
Cultural Counsel | Evan Lenox (National)
evan@culturalcounsel.com | 978-844-1241

TR/PR | Toni Robin (Local) tr@trprsandiego.com | 858-483-3918