Li-lan attended The Heckscher Museum of Art’s Locally Sourced: Collecting Long Island Artists exhibition opening on November 23, 2019. Her 1979 drawing Composition Book, which is part of the museum’s permanent collection, was on display along with art by Jackson Pollock, Betty Parsons, Miriam Schapiro and many others.
Li-lan’s work on paper offers the viewer a meticulously rendered blank page and a sliver of the cover of a marbled composition book. She explains: “My models are ordinary pieces of paper and notebooks that I happen upon, in my studio or anywhere. Perhaps I find the paper folded or torn, the notebooks open or closed, but each contains a mystery for me and becomes the raw material for a still life…Pages upon which nothing is yet written speak to me; their blankness anticipates a beginning. And in their stillness, I find a place for meditation.”
Although Li-lan does not depict the landscape of Long Island, her experience of changing daylight, as opposed to the artificial light of New York City, impacted her work. She recalled that after she moved to East Hampton in 1972: “My bright city colors first turned dark, then darker; then white, then whiter.”
Locally Sourced highlights work by female artists in honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, and works on paper created by women are on view throughout the Museum. As this dedicated gallery attests, women’s contributions to Long Island’s culture have been extensive and enduring.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Helen Torr, Betty Parsons, Esphyr Slobodkina, and Hedda Sterne broke with social convention to pursue art careers in the face of gender discrimination. They played pivotal – and underrecognized – roles in shaping American modernism. In the early 1970s Miriam Schapiro, a leader of the feminist art movement, began to question the value system of the male-dominated artworld. She explained that her right collages were meant “to validate the traditional activities of women, to connect myself to the unknown women artists who made quilts, who had done the invisible ‘women’s work’ of civilization. I wanted to acknowledge them, to honor them.” Paintings by Dee Shapiro and Louise P. Sloane share some of her aims, while landscapes by Janet Culbertson and Pat Ralph advocate for action in response to the environmental crisis.
Many museums, including the Heckscher, have collected and exhibited more art by men than by women. The Museum began addressing this imbalance in the 1970s with shows including the first retrospective of Helen Torr’s work and Artists of Suffolk County: Twenty Women Artists. The latter featured Margery Caggiano, Janet Culbertson, Li-lan, and Pat Ralph, whose paintings and drawings are on view here. Most recently we presented You Go Girl! Celebrating Women Artists (2016) and A Brush with HerStory: Paintings by Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso (2019). As the Museum strives to preserve and share more complete histories of art, the importance of exploring art by diverse women remains paramount.
Photos by Gerald Estabillo