Maternal Metaphors I


Maternal Metaphors I

Exhibition Title

Maternal Metaphors I


New York

Curatorial Statement

It is with pleasure and satisfaction that I find myself writing the introduction to this catalogue: pleasure in the realization of a project that has been “in progress” for many years, and satisfaction that I can now move forward with a sense of accomplishment.

During the time that I first began collecting the ideas for Maternal Metaphors, then during years of proposing the exhibit to numerous institutions and observing the responses and rejections I received, I learned a great deal about the relationship between maternal ambivalence and both popular culture and the art world. However, as I contemplated putting Maternal Metaphors behind me once and for all, I received the auspicious e-mail from the Rochester Contemporary, with tentative dates for the exhibition. It is truly an appropriate time for me to see this project come to fruition. My twins, who were eleven when I first conceived of the exhibit, are now seventeen and preparing to leave home for college in the fall. My tenure as full-time primary caregiver is almost completed. In another manifestation of my ambivalence, I both celebrate and mourn their departure.

I am continually encountering young women who are grappling with the issues raised by the work in this show; it is a cycle that repeats itself, with each generation of new mothers. For these and other multiple reasons, the work remains relevant and timely, as the continuing sense of isolation and frustration felt by these women, particularly in the field of visual art, needs to be addressed and confronted.

Before I had children, I could never have anticipated the consequences that motherhood would have for my artistic life. Of course I knew that time and financial constraints would multiply, that my relationship to my studio and the art world would change. But by the time my children were thinking and talking and infusing me with the creativity of childhood as well as exhausting me with their constant needs and demands, I knew that I wanted to address some aspects of this life in my artwork. I had to make art from this place. I hoped to validate my decision to have children, and in conveying some of the difficulties of this choice, to challenge the images of motherhood that I saw in popular culture. My first step was to read everything I could get my hands on that had the word mother in it, which, as an expansion of my ongoing reading about women, tended to comprise works of literary criticism, feminist psychoanalysis, and fiction. As I turn around and look at the shelf behind me while I’m writing this I see titles such as Of Woman Born (Adrienne Rich), The Reproduction of Mothering (Nancy Chodorow), The Spectral Mother (Madelon Sprengnether), The Mother/Daughter Plot (Marianne Hirsh), The Unspeakable Mother, (Deborah Kelly Kloepfer), Mother Reader (Moyra Davey), The Mother Knot (Jane Lazarre), Beloved (Toni Morrison), and many more. I found this reading to be invaluable when it came to formulating my new work. It also made me feel connected to the women who wrote these books.

And so my art—having evolved from formal sculpture to multimedia installation—changed again, incorporating my current maternal needs and desires. My children while still young were happy contributors and collaborators, and this enhanced the bond between us. The resulting installations were emotionally and artistically rewarding, but when I began bringing the work into the public realm (as had been my practice in the past), I noticed some definite trends. The more explicitly involved with motherhood my work became, the more trouble I had locating venues for showing it.

The reasons for this trouble were of course diverse. I was growing older. The institutions where I had connections changed personnel and ideology; new younger curators didn’t know my work, and with my limited time, caught between family, employment and artwork, I wasn't striving to remain visible. Openings and conferences were always at night or on weekends, and I barely had enough time to make the work, let alone promote myself. But there was more to it than that. I began to surmise that the subject matter was influencing these curatorial decisions. I detected certain patterns of response, certain hostilities. I felt isolated, and needed to connect with other women who were working this way. It seemed obvious to me that these artists existed, although the only work I was intensely familiar with at the time was Post-Partum Document, by Mary Kelly. I then decided to write a proposal for an exhibition. Not only would I be able to meet and create a dialogue with artists who had common concerns, but a group show of provocative work would demonstrate that there could be an interest in aspects of maternity for the art world.

The proposal as well as the list of artists developed gradually. Ellen McMahon, whose work I discovered through A.I.R. Gallery’s website, was a major resource. Ellen had written a paper called “Maternity, Autonomy, Ambivalence and Loss,” which paralleled many of my concerns and interests. She introduced me to Andrea Liss, the writer and art historian from Los Angeles who was organizing a panel for the College Art Association in 1999. Andrea put me in touch with Gail Rebhan, who invited me to present a slide show in Toronto at a conference on Mothers and Sons in 1998. There I met Judy Gelles and Marion Wilson. Ellen referred me to Monica Bock the following year, who subsequently spoke on a panel with Sarah Webb at Barnard College. I saw the work of Renée Cox, Judy Glantzman and Aura Rosenberg here in New York, and when I became familiar with Mary Kelly’s lesser known maternal work, Primapara, longed to include that as well. And so the list grew and became coherent, in what has truly been a collaborative effort.

My decision to produce a catalogue to accompany the exhibit with limited time at my disposal has made me ever more appreciative of the world of electronic interconnection and digital imaging and printing. Although I was helped and supported by many more friends and colleagues than I have room to mention here, I would like to thank Elizabeth McDade who accepted the proposal; my parents who so generously provided funds for the catalogue; the writers who eagerly embraced my suggestion to contribute their essays at such short notice, and whose work met all my expectations and more; the artists who worked with me, for their commiseration, shared anecdotes, and their beautiful, uncompromising, and provocative work. I would particularly like to acknowledge Ellen McMahon, who has been with me since the beginning; Monica Bock, who presented with me in New York and Toronto; and Sarah Webb, who first submitted the proposal to RoCo, and has been working assiduously and skillfully in multiple capacities to make this show happen. Finally, thanks to Don, who has always encouraged me to follow my dreams, and Sam and Tanya, who, in introducing me to maternal ambivalence, made it all possible.

Myrel Chernick


Monica Bock
Renée Cox
Judy Gelles
Judy Glantzman
Mary Kelly
Ellen McMahon
Gail Rebhan
Aura Rosenberg
Sarah Webb
Marion Wilson


April 23-May 24, 2004



“Maternal Metaphors I,” Artist Parent Index , accessed June 18, 2024,

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