More works by women artists.

That was the overarching goal of the Figge Art Museum's acquisition committee for 2017, a recognition that while women make up more than half the county's population, they are represented by only 6 percent of the museum's collection, Andrew Wallace, manager of collections and exhibitions, said.

The result is a range of new works, from an abstract painting and numerous photographs to vibrant sculptures made of "found" objects and colorful fabric. And the artists themselves are as different from each other as the works they produced.

All told, the museum acquired 182 works this year, the majority of them donated, Wallace said.  

Two sculpture pieces by Vanessa German (b. 1976), a contemporary artist based in Pittsburgh, attract your attention as soon as the elevators doors part to the second floor.

They are similar in this: They appear to be female figures made with doll heads that have been built up with plaster and paper in a way that Africanizes the faces, reminiscent of tribal masks, Wallace said.

Objects tucked in among the brilliantly colored fabric dress include baby shoes, porcelain electrical insulators, a travel clock, a butterfly in a picture frame, two noisemakers that look like clowns, a paper detergent box, a cleaning brush and bracelets.

"The goal is to directly express emotions, complex and confusing, a complex network of emotions," Wallace said of German's work. "While on the surface they may look like caricatures, they are exuberant, passionate and emotion-filled. They are an outward expression of what's happening inside."

Fabric colors represent different emotions; red is rage; white conjures spirits, memories and ancestors; and blue is 'the blues,' or sadness/melancholy, he said.

"She (German) would have a very specific emotion tied to each one of the elements you see in this," he said. The sculptures also are a "form that can be appreciated by children," he said.

Behind the sculptures, hanging on a wall, is another assemblage of found objects with a very different feel. Created by Ukrainian immigrant Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), they consist of pieces she collected while walking the streets of New York in the 1930s, searching for wood to burn in her fireplace to keep warm.

The pieces include roofing shingles, a chair leg and a staircase spindle. They are assembled puzzle-like and painted black.

The third new piece in the second floor foyer is a large, colorful abstract expressionist painting by Grace Hartigan, a woman working around the same time as the more widely known Jackson Pollack and Franz Kline. She was the only woman whose work was represented in an exhibit titled "12 Americans" in 1956 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Wallace said.

In addition to being created by a woman, her work "is one of only a couple of abstract paintings (in the Figge) at all," he said. "It fills in where we have not much to show. We're very happy about that."

Other works acquired in 2017 include photographs, with 17 on display in a side gallery on the second floor.

Lilly McElroy's photo titled "I control the sun" is taken in such a way that it appears the sun is being held within a human hand. "I make photographs in which I confront the American landscape and foolhardily demand that it become aware of my presence," she states in a panel next to her work.

"She is trying to exert herself, to exert authority over the world in which she finds herself," Wallace explained.

Another photograph of which Wallace is particularly proud is a soft platinum print of a woman and a child by Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934), "the oldest work by a woman photographer in our growing photo collection," Wallace said.

Kasebier was born in what is now Des Moines and was known for images of motherhood, portraits of Native Americans and promotion of photography as a career for women.

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