Woman as subject and artist

BMA shows: Catlett, Ringgold figure in BMA's shows for Black History Month.

February 07, 1999

ELIZABETH CATLETT has been classed as an African-American artist, a woman artist, a Mexican artist, a sculptor and a printmaker. The operative word for this major figure in North American art, born 84 years ago, is artist.

So the 50-year retrospective of her work at the Baltimore Museum of Art may qualify as the annual show of African-American talent and themes for Black History Month that has become a fixture of American cultural institution life. But it is also the exploration of a major artist whose work is found in the BMA's permanent collection.

Some of Ms. Catlett's work dwells on African-American themes, some political. Some from after her move to Mexico a half-century ago is politically and artistically Mexican. And many of her sculptures from the 1970s and 1980s deal simply and monumentally with the archetypal female form, as have such male sculptors as Aristide Maillol and Henry Moore.

The other one-artist show in the BMA for the season features a group of quilts on French art and African-American womanhood by Faith Ringgold. At 68 she is another senior figure whose work is in the BMA permanent collection.

Ms. Ringgold was a painter before she was a quilter, and often works painted canvases into her quilts, which is a neat trick.

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