Rowan University Art Gallery
The Sister Chapel, a historic collaborative installation created at the height of the women’s art movement, opens at Gallery West for its first public exhibition since 1980. After an absence of more than thirty-five years, the components of The Sister Chapel will be fully reunited in Gallery West. To celebrate the return of this powerful work of contemporary art, Maureen Connor’s previously unrealized tent enclosure is being fabricated.
Conceived by Ilise Greenstein in 1974 and first exhibited in 1978, The Sister Chapel embraced the cooperative spirit of the women’s art movement. Using a nominal pun on Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel ceiling, Greenstein issued a feminist challenge to the patriarchal conceptualization of history. In contrast to her male predecessor, she envisioned a nonhierarchical, secular commemoration of female role models from a female perspective; thus, The Sister Chapel invited viewers to reconsider familiar and often unconscious presumptions about gender roles and women’s achievements.
Between 1974 and 1977, Greenstein was joined by 12 other women whose individual contributions shaped the character and appearance of The Sister Chapel. In its final form, the installation consisted of Greenstein’s eighteen-foot abstract ceiling suspended above a circular arrangement of eleven nine-foot canvases, each depicting the standing figure of a heroic woman. The choice of subject was left entirely to the creator of each work. As a result, the paintings form a visually cohesive group without diminishing the individuality of the artists.
Contemporary and historical women, deities, and conceptual figures are featured, including Bella Abzug - the Candidate, a portrait of the American Congresswoman and social reformer, painted by Alice Neel; Betty Friedan as the Prophet, a portrayal of the influential author of The Feminine Mystique, by June Blum; Marianne Moore, the American poet, by Betty Holliday; Frida Kahlo, the celebrated Mexican artist, by Shirley Gorelick; Artemisia Gentileschi, the seventeenth-century Italian Baroque artist, by May Stevens; Joan of Arc, the sainted fifteenth-century French military heroine, by Elsa M. Goldsmith; Lilith, the rebellious first wife of Adam, by Sylvia Sleigh; God, a female manifestation of the creator of the universe, by Cynthia Mailman; Durga, the powerful Hindu goddess, by Diana Kurz; Womanhero, a conceptual embodiment of female strength and power, by Martha Edelheit; and Self-Portrait as Superwoman (Woman as Culture Hero) by Sharon Wybrants.