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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition
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    Installation image – Pattern and Decoration exhibition

Pattern and Decoration: Feminism and Friendship

September 14, 2020 - February 28, 2021
Palm Desert, CA

Artwork

About

“The wall may eventually collapse under the accumulated decorative weight. But at least it will look great.” Holland Cotter, art critic at The New York Times

Heather James Fine Art presents an exhibition of works by Constance Mallinson, Merion Estes, and Valerie Jaudon – artists who helped found and expand the Pattern and Decoration movement.

What was Pattern and Decoration? Emerging from the 1970s and into the 1980s, the movement embraced feminine and non-Western art practices and aesthetics. During this time, abstract expressionism gave way to minimalism and conceptualism as the dominant forms of art that attracted critical acclaim. Nevertheless, within a field of liberation politics (feminism and post-colonialism), Pattern and Decoration broke through to become critically and commercially successful.

Much of the narrative around Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Conceptualism focused on the masculine and the heroic or on the Western emphasis of modernism as non-ornamental. The artists within Pattern and Decoration questioned and upended these notions by placing primacy onto symbols, designs, and processes often associated with the feminine or with African and Asian art practices.

in 1978, one of the artists in the exhibition, Valerie Jaudon, espoused the importance of the decorative in ‘Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture’. The essay explained how the discourse of art history had been biased against non-Western and female artists in its enforcement of hierarchies between artforms and in the very language it uses to discuss itself.

Thus, the Pattern and Decoration movement sought to correct these misconceptions and expand the possibilities of art. The seismic shift put quilting, Islamic tiles, wallpaper, arabesques, glitter, floral patterns, fabric and more on equal footing with other art forms.

Crucially, the artists did not create work for the approval of male critics and artists but for each other. As Merion Estes noted, “I don’t give a… about men who want to see my work. I want to make work for women.” It is not surprising then, that many of the artists of the movement like Jaudon, Estes, and Constance Mallinson, aligned themselves with the new wave of Feminism.

Friendship underscored and girded Pattern and Decoration and the hallmark of women helping women was particularly strong, especially between Estes and Mallinson. Los Angeles became a beacon of light attracting artists to the city and within it, women supported the work of other women. Los Angeles boasted Womanspace and Woman’s Building – a feminist gallery and hub respectively that helped spearhead the feminist art movement. Not just supportive by mounting exhibitions, sometimes help came in babysitting – work that is often overlooked or relegated outside the purview of history.

Nevertheless, by the 1980s Neo-Expressionism, in its masculine monumentality, appeared to sweep aside the gains made by these artists. Just as those pushing music in the 1980s fought back against feminine Disco with its association with the Queer and Black communities, so too did the decade champion a so-called “return” to serious art.

Despite this, the resurgence of crafts and maximalist aesthetic can trace its roots to Pattern and Decoration. These artists paved the way for others to incorporate decorative arts into their practice including ceramics and glass or to pile up elements and ornamentation onto the visual plane. By including more recent works, the exhibition demonstrates how the aesthetics of these pieces seem at home both on a gallery wall as well as social media such as Instagram and Tumblr.

Along with our other virtual exhibitions “The Cool School” and “Moment to Moment”, this exhibition re-examines how California shaped art history while also examining the women whose contribution have gone uncelebrated until recently. While “The Cool School” and “Moment to Moment” often focused on the male dominated friendships and relationships that upended art history, Pattern and Decoration provides a needed restorative look at how female friendship has made as big of a mark. As Holland Cotter points out, Pattern and Decoration could well have been “the last genuine art movement of the 20th century” as each successive “movement” has been more branding or promotion than any coherent community.

Artists