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Lesley Vance in Put It This Way

2 August 2022—4 September 2023
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, USA

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This exhibition unites almost a century of work by 49 women and nonbinary artists in a range of media drawn exclusively from the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection.

Titled after a 1963 painting by American pop artist Rosalyn Drexler, whose work is featured in the first gallery, Put It This Way is organised by Hirshhorn Associate Curator Anne Reeve. The exhibition speaks to traditionally marginalised artists’ decisive and virtuosic achievements, and investigates a wide array of aesthetic, political and historical concerns. The full-floor presentation is intended to encourage conversations around the significance of gender in creating and perceiving an artwork, the effects of categorising artists by gender as well as the museum’s role and responsibilities in stewarding the national collection of modern and contemporary art.

Lesley Vance creates sweeping abstract paintings with a palpable sense of continuity and flow. Her surfaces deftly weave light and shadow, color and form, background and foreground into a heady mix that can appear to vibrate in front of the eyes like an optical illusion. She achieves this effect by working intuitively and improvisationally, following both material and movement, until—as she describes it—the painting develops its own independent logic. Untitled demonstrates this negotiation between control and a relinquishing of it, seeming to generate its own feeling of ceaseless energy and reminiscent of natural phenomena such as breath, gravitational pull, wind, or water. Vance refrains from titling any of her works, as she wishes viewers to come to them openly and follow their own interpretations and sensations. This choice also, perhaps, reflects a respect for the painting’s independence, its unique life force. In her words, “You want the painting to feel like it just fell out of the sky, and... was meant to exist that way.”