Matriarchs of Modernism

Yellowstone Art Museum brings 'Matriarchs of Modernism' to its Billings gallery

The Yellowstone Art Museum announces the opening of an exhibit four influential Montana artists, part of the theme of “Women’s Work.”

yellowstone art museum, jessie wilber magpies in snowstorm, montana living

Jessie Wilber's "Magpies in Snowstorm"

A companion exhibition, Modern Connections, highlights a few of the artists who were taught, influenced, or sustained by these early Modernists. Jessie Wilber, Frances Senska, Gennie DeWeese, and Isabelle Johnson were among the first and most influential Montana artists to embrace Modernist art and values.

They mentored students and connected other creatives working in the arts, sciences, and humanities to construct an alternative to the nostalgic cowboy culture of mid-Century Montana. Beginning in the 1940s, these four Matriarchs of Modernism arrived in, or came home to, Montana after absorbing avant-garde philosophy and practice in urban centers.

 yellowstone art museum billings montana, montana living, Isabelle Johnson - Little Island Winter

Isabelle Johnson's 'Little Island Winter,' on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum

They, in turn, introduced new ways of thinking about art and teaching to succeeding generations of artists. Over their long careers, they each found ways to combine the formal lessons of abstract composition with personal vocabularies based on close observations of the people, places, and things in their daily lives. Their deep connections to place were consistently reflected in their subjects and in their support for Montana’s creative communities. Modernism was a global movement that aligned with the social upheavals brought on by the industrial revolution. Building on late nineteenth-century precedents, artists began reflecting on the realities, hopes, and fears they experienced in the modern world. From the early decades of the twentieth century through the 1960s, Modernist art encompassed a broad range of expressions while sharing a few underlying principles: rejection of traditional illusionistic styles and conservative values, formal experimentation and a tendency toward abstraction, and innovative materials and processes. Modernism was generally optimistic, driven by utopian ideals and a belief in linear progress. Modern Connections July 16, 2020 – July 2021, Mildred Sandall Scott Galleries Jessie Wilber, Frances Senska, Gennie DeWeese, and Isabelle Johnson grounded their creative practices in connections. Each taught formally for part of their careers and, informally, throughout their lives. They were among the first and most influential Montana artists to embrace Modernist art and values. They, along with their students and other creatives working in the arts, sciences, and humanities, constructed a vibrant arts culture in mid-century Montana.


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