19 Artists Explore Women, Power in "Push Comes to Shove" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

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“No one calls you honey when you’re sitting on a throne.”

So read the words written across Brooke Grucella's large-scale painting that visitors see when they enter the “Push Comes to Shove” exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

On view through January 2017, the exhibition includes work by 19 artists from four generations, each exploring the ways “women conceptualize, achieve, exercise, discuss, and think about power in both their professional and personal lives.”

Grucella’s painting is titled Walking on Glass. It features the face of Hillary Clinton alongside five other powerful women, an executive-style office chair, and flying shards of glass referencing a break in the proverbial glass ceiling that's symbolic of women’s oppression.

The exhibition couldn’t be more timely. In a matter of weeks, the United States may well elect its first woman president.

Even so, that wasn’t the impetus for the exhibition, which was co-curated by Muriel Magenta, intermedia professor at Arizona State University’s School of Art, and Sara Cochran, director and chief curator for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Instead, it was Magenta’s experience with five highly accomplished women she invited to speak to her class during fall 2015. Among them were U.S. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema and international businesswoman Barbara Barrett, the namesake for ASU’s Barrett Honors College.

Every “Push Comes to Shove” artist has some connection to ASU. But they have a wealth of other connections, too.

For artist M. Jenea Sanchez, those connections reach beyond the U.S.-Mexico border into a small town called Agua Prieta, where she’s worked for two years with women in DouglaPrieta Trabajan, a grassroots organization that promotes economic self-sufficiency. 

They invited Sanchez to paint a mural on a space they built with locally made bricks, and then Sanchez began collaborating with them, inviting fellow artist Gabriela Muñoz to participate in what became an ongoing cross-border exchange of encouragement and specific skills.

Sanchez and Muñoz created Labor, a wall of bricks made with Mexican soil that includes serigraph images of the women they worked with. It forms a perpendicular line across a polished concrete floor in the first of two “Push Comes to Shove” galleries. Nearby, viewers can see three large-scale photographs by Sanchez, who hails from Douglas, Arizona, a town located just across the border from Agua Prieta. 

Not every “Push Comes to Shove” piece is overtly political.

Magenta created three works for the exhibition: an audio installation of quotes from well-known women in various fields, a dual-channel video featuring two millennials sharing their own takes on leadership, and a video with remarks by the five women leaders who inspired the exhibition.

Visitors hear the quotes, sometimes punctuated by the sounds of breaking glass, played at random intervals as they stroll through the space. They see the millennials, professionally dressed and speaking confidently, on side-by-side screens mounted to a wall. And they watch the video while seated on a simple bench placed inside a room-like viewing area with walls made of plush, jet black fabric.

In addition to Sinema and Barrett, Magenta’s video includes Rebecca White Berch, former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court; Diane Enos, former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; and Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood.

Some artists created work in direct response to these women’s narratives, which share common themes such hard work, mentoring, openness to experimentation, and strong networks. Some remind viewers of ways women have been marginalized in the past, or seek to change perceptions of women in contemporary society.

Thus, this exhibition is about far more than showing works by women artists.

“Push Comes to Shove” includes additional video and audio works, mixed-media installations, paintings, and additional media. Most were created in 2016, giving museum-goers a chance to see new works by some of the leading artists on the local arts scene.

Some consider women’s power using nontraditional narratives. Hilary Harp and Suzie Silver created a mixed-media installation called Better Out Than In, comprising five felt banners and a zine-type publication inspired by a larger collaborative project they call Fairy Fantastic, which adapts the Japanese folktale of a woman with powerful farts (yes, farts) for a series of video folk tales for queer kids.

In some cases, artists employed unconventional materials. Malena Barnhart used mass-produced children’s stickers reflecting gender stereotypes to create images of animal traps and restraints. The exhibition also includes The YouTube Feminist Discourse, her video filled with anti-feminist sentiments expressed by others online.

Some works, including those by Angela Ellsworth and Siri Devi Khandavilli, both represented by Lisa Sette Gallery, are quite conceptual. Ellsworth used a cupboard door, chiffon, and fan to explore power as something constructed and impermanent. Khandavilli references the glass ceiling using bangle bracelets and frames with broken plexiglass.

In one gallery, viewers see The Table by Forrest Solis, which comprises a Midcentury Modern table with beautiful warm tones and a chair. Onto the table, Solis painted an image of her own hands, and engraved this quote from Congresswoman Sinema: “We need more women at the table because if they aren’t at the table then decisions are made about them.”

In another, museum-goers don headsets to hear Why I can’t write a song about Hilary Clinton, which explores Adriene Jenik’s ambivalence about Clinton’s candidacy. Jenik, who currently heads ASU’s School of Art, recorded the song at Grant Street Studios.

Several additional artists created work inspired by personal experience, or the experiences of women in their own lives. There’s Mary Hood’s mixed-media self-portrait titled You Better Make It In The World On Your Own and Julie Anand’s My Sister in Labor video.

“Push Comes to Shove” also includes works by Patricia Clark, Anne Coe, Grisha Coleman, Meredith Drum, and Mary Neubauer and Todd Ingalls. Sanchez and Muñoz created individual works in addition to their collaborative Labor piece.

“I’m proud of Phoenix taking the reins with this subject matter,” says Sanchez, recognizing Scottsdale as part of the greater metro Phoenix arts community. “I know this show is relevant to our times, especially with the upcoming election.”

“Push Comes to Shove” continues through January 8, 2017, at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum admission is $10; but free on Thursdays and after 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Find details at www.smoca.org.

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