Consider this a last-chance arts pick.
When artist Mary Maughelli, a Fresno State emerita professor and founding member of Gallery 25, died in 2015, she was lauded for her contributions to the feminist art movement. At Fresno State, she was a contemporary of Judy Chicago, one of the biggest names in the feminist art field. Maughelli’s work – much of it intensely personal and rooted in representational human figures, a way for her to explore issues of feminism – was well known locally.
Less known was her earlier work, including her fascination with and expertise in abstract expressionism. Maughelli studied at the University of California at Berkeley, a hotbed of the movement, learning under such greats as Hans Hoffman. She painted some pretty wild, wonderful works.
You can get a glimpse at both aspects of her career in a very fine exhibition at the university’s Madden Library titled “Mary Maughelli: Abstract Expressionism and Feminist Artwork.” Here’s a rundown:
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The last chance: Alas, the exhibition closes Friday. It’s been up for a while, but I haven’t had a chance to write about it until now.
The goal: Maki-Dearsan and Ogata wanted to reach millennials, for whom abstract expressionism (a movement most prominent between 1940 and 1960) and feminist art (associated with the late 1960s and 1970s) might seem long in the past. To that end, there is a great deal of backstory provided on didactic panels and multimedia about both movements.
The technology: Visitors to the exhibition are invited to download a free app for smartphones called Aurasma, which allows them to scan various images for further information. I was a little skeptical at first, thinking that the text on my phone would merely duplicate that on the paintings’ identification labels, but then I discovered a wealth of links and information for some works (such as her 1968 feminist painting, “I Have Seen, I Have Heard, I Have Understood”) that added important context. This “augmented reality,” as it’s called, adds another layer to the exhibition experience.
The highlights: For me, my favorite paintings include the shockingly fluorescent “Against Thy Will” (1967), which shows an adult head emerging from a mother’s birth canal. And among the abstracts, her “Blue” (1958), described by Ogata as “an example of art making at its best,” really resonated with me.
The educational component: I learned a lot – especially about abstract expressionism. I spent time with a film about Hoffman titled “Artist Teacher, Teacher Artist,” and I was intrigued by his thoughts on the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane and his view that you don’t get depth in painting with perspective but rather with color. The color controls what he called the “push pull” of the three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional format. In Maughelli’s “Red” (1959), Maki-Dearsan in the accompanying label uses the “push” and “pull” terms in a way that made me truly understand Hoffman’s concept.
The personal: I like that we get a view of Maughelli as a person, not just a painter. A video interview with her playing out loud on one computer monitor inserts her presence into the show; even when I wasn’t watching the interview, I could hear her voice from across the room. And there are several displays of her personal effects (old photos, clippings, the bits that can turn an “abstract” life into one that seems concrete). In one, a page of one of her notebooks is opened to a page in which she’s written repeatedly “I am a creative & perceptive artist.” To which I reply: You certainly were, Mary.
Details: “Mary Maughelli: Abstract Expressionism and Feminist Artwork,” through Friday. (Library closes at 5 p.m.) Leon S. Peters Ellipse Gallery, Madden Library, Fresno State. 559-278-5792. Free.