"The Femme Abstract"

Moya McIntyre’s second edition of this group show ushers in the new year with a glorious plenitude of color and imagery

Installation view, "The Femme Abstract" (Courtesy of the artist)

In these clamped-down, stressed-out, resource-stripped days of pandemic, we've come to scarcely expect art exhibitions at all, much less ones that present wide-ranging surveys showcasing dozens of artists.

And yet, here we are, greeting 2021 with just such a broad, extensive show. Two years after heroically assembling work by 50 women artists into a single exhibition, artist and curator Moya McIntyre has made that monumental effort again. The number of artists in the second edition of "The Femme Abstract" may be slighly smaller, but the show itself is no less engrossing than the Austin Critics Table Award-winning first. Here are pieces by more than 40 artists spread over two floors in a former office space in the redeveloped warehouse at 979 Springdale, and the varieties of style and medium are so expansive that every wall, every room, every nook and cranny offers a distinctive and fresh experience. Indeed, the show is a lesson in how woefully inadequate the term "abstract art" is in describing work that isn't purely representational. You'll certainly find 2D paintings composed of geometric shapes and color fields – the go-to style when many people think "abstract" – but you'll also find abstracted human forms in bronze, soaring towers of found trash, a 7-foot pyramid, natural and human-made objects suspended from chains, fabric hangings, installations with video, installations with large slatelike forms, prayer flags, ceramic pots with tendrils, ceramic heads, a soft sculpture of a leg, glass-covered high-heeled shoes under bell jars, and so much more. Just as the show itself is unexpected given the times, the work it presents is frequently unexpected – and pleasingly so.

Clearly, McIntyre solicited artists whose work will surprise in the context of the show, no matter how you interpret the phrase "The Femme Abstract." But she's also taken care to position their pieces around the space in ways that surprise by juxtaposition.

Hallie Rae Ward's Foreplay / Four Play, consisting of four long tubes wrapped on the outside in yarn of varied colors but also lit from the inside by LEDs that change color every few seconds, radiates a gentle, cheering vibe, while just next to it Hollis Hammonds' hulking pillars of discarded pie pans, milk cartons, toys, boxes, and other detritus, all stuck together and painted midnight-black, accompanied by the voice of poet Sasha West, project a mood of gloom, if not outright doom.

In one of several small rooms (one viewer at a time, social distancing observed) hang some of Mars Woodhill's dense vortexes of color, each acrylic painting depicting a range of vivid hues streaming into a turbulent central mass that's part hurricane eye, part tree trunk rings, part geode. They're evidence of nature's forces in contention, perhaps even violent opposition. In an adjacent room, one of Alejandra Almuelle's sculptures haunts quietly: A bust of a woman hangs upside down near the floor, with a ceramic cast of feet hanging several feet above the head and pointing upward, creating the sensation of her entire body upended. But the gap between head and feet is filled with rows of large, thick needles. Their purpose is unclear – to sew her back together? – but her closed eyes and lips indicate no answer is forthcoming. As with Hamlet's last words, "The rest is silence."

Under one set of stairs is another of Ward's light works, Which Way Are You Going?, in which the tubes appear as rungs of a tall ladder suspended over a mirror. Peering into the looking glass, you see this ladder stretching far below you, suggesting some nether realm where your fate may lie. But at the top of those stairs are Sarah Luna's ethereal black-and-white photographs of curved objects on a white field. The subjects are blurred and hazy, such that you can't quite make out what they are, so indistinct that they appear not fully in our world but receding into some other plane, ghostly and insubstantial. They give the impression that if you reached for them, your hand would go right through them.

McIntyre has seeded such contrasts throughout the exhibit, and considering them from work to work could occupy you for hours. For that matter, taking each work on its own could occupy you for hours. As with its 2018 predecessor, "The Femme Abstract" of 2021 provides a bounty for the eyes and mind. We might not have expected the show, but it's welcome – for the break it provides from the past year and the hope it offers for art in the months ahead.

"The Femme Abstract"

79 Springdale #123
Through Jan. 31

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Moya McIntyre, "The Femme Abstract", Hallie Rae Ward, Hollis Hammonds, Mars Woodhill, Alejandra Almuelle, Sarah Luna

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