Michelle Stuart through her art has created complex, multifaceted investigations of the relationship between nature and culture for over four decades,. Her artworks range in scale from monumental earthworks to intimate talismanic sculptures. In the seventies, Stuart became known as a pioneer in the use of nontraditional materials, introducing into her art earth, seeds, plant parts, ash, fossils and archaeological shards. Her body of work is informed by her interest in archaeology, anthropology, cartography, botany, biology, exploration, literature and history. It addresses the metaphysical while remaining profoundly rooted in its own materiality.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Stuart’s experiments with alternative mediums led to her earth rubbings (often called “scrolls”), which were created through a process of smashing, pulverizing, rubbing and imprinting soil and rock into sheets of scroll-like paper. This important body of luminous monochromatic drawings offered the revolutionary gestures of both bringing land art into the gallery and expanding the Minimalist vocabulary to include nontraditional materials. Grounded in the particular place from whence she gathered her materials (like Sayreville, NJ, the Mesa Verde, CO, or the Honduran Mayan archaeological site of Copán), Stuart’s works explore the elements inherent to that locale and displace them in a translated artistic form within the gallery or museum context. During this time, Stuart investigated other means of addressing specific sites through her ambitious landworks or, as she terms them, “drawings in the landscape”. In Niagara Gorge Path Relocated (1975), the artist situated a 460-foot scroll of paper cascading down a large bank of the Niagara River Gorge at Art Park. For Stone Alignments/Solstice Cairns (1979), she positioned 3,400 boulders in a linear configuration which indicated the rise and fall of the sun at its summer solstice.
Throughout the 70s, Stuart also proved a resonant voice in the development of the Women’s Movement. She participated in gatherings of female art professionals in New York City; in 1976 she helped found Heresies, a feminist publication devoted to art, politics and history. She also helped create the Women’s Art Registry in New York, which became an important alternative, grassroots method of disseminating information about underrecognized female artists.
In the 1980s, Stuart shifted her focus. She embarked on a series of large gridded paintings that introduced beeswax, seashells, blossoms, leaves and sand imbedded in an encaustic surface. Their rich, thick materiality and large scale invite a prolonged contemplative exploration of nature, mirroring the work of Romantic poets, novelists and artists. Furthermore, the even surface treatment and gridded system promote a non-hierarchical world of composition; it allows perception to oscillate between consideration of the fragment and the whole. At this time, Stuart also created complex multi-media installations involving light and sound elements. For one such work, Ashes in Arcadia (1988), Stuart filled a room in the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, MA, with a monumental encaustic relief painting, as well as earth, fossils, books, rocks, plants, glass, metal, refuse, ashes and the haunting sounds of a humpback whale. A site of charred remains of a paradise lost, this work expresses Stuart’s discontent with America’s irresponsible treatment of its own natural and cultural environment.
Since then, Stuart has extended her meditation on the vulnerability and endurance of nature. Her series titled Extinct (1993) was inspired by her discovery of a Victorian album of leaves lovingly preserved for posterity; it remarks on our own practices of consumption and conservation. For one work in the series, she revisited the grid formation, but this time placed a variety of fragile, dried plants within each compartment, rendering once vibrant, living elements of a garden into tragic specimens. During this time, Stuart also created the Seed Calendar drawings, which employ the grid to map the maturation stages of a seed; yet, each seed is entombed within wax, thus hinting at and illustrating growth without the possessing the liberty to fulfill it. Stuart further explored the dormancy and potential, yet unreleased growth, promised by seeds in her series of table and container sculptures, which allude to displays in natural history museums.
Throughout her career, Stuart has also sought to manifest her love of literature and the writing process through a variety of strategies. In the early 70s, she began to create the Rock Book series, artworks that in their use of natural materials from specific sites might be considered alternative travel logs. These works take the form of tattered, bound journals made of earth rubbings; mysteriously, they contain no words, but rather conflate a major subject of writing—nature, and the material itself, thus enabling the viewer to “read” the landscape in an extra-semiotic manner. For example, in Homage to the Owl from Four Corners (1985), earth, owl feathers, string and beeswax are brought together to form a book. And throughout her oeuvre, elements of language recur in the form of fragments of texts, petroglyphs, postcards, logbooks and maps. Furthermore, Stuart has published numerous artists books, including The Fall (1976), a book-length prose poem about the fervor of keeping historical records. Her recent Butterflies and Moths (2006)juxtaposes Stuart’s own gouache inkblots of the winged creatures with relevant quotes from writers including Vladmir Nabokov, Federico García Lorca, Nathanial Hawthorne, Buckminster Fuller and Stuart herself.
Stuart currently lives and works in New York City and Amagansett, Long Island.
Selected Exhibition History, Collections and Awards
Michelle Stuart has exhibited widely in Europe, Asia and the United States for more than thirty years. Selected exhibitions include: the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; the Art Museum of the Ateneum, Helsinki, Finland; the Musée d’Arts de Toulon, France; the American Academy of Arts & Letters; Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan.
She has had one-person exhibits at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; The Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Netherlands; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA; Centre d’Arts Plastique Contemporaines de Bourdeaux, France; The Arts Club of Chicago; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Galerie Ueda and Ueda Warehouse Tokyo, Japan and individual galleries in both the United States and Europe.
Among her commissions are a grand lobby installation: Paradisi: A Garden Mural, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Site sculptures include Starmarker and Star Chart: Constellations, in Wanas Sculpture Garden, Knislinge, Sweden; Garden of Four Seasons, Scheide Music Center, Wooster, Ohio; Garden of Four Seasons, a bronze/marble sculpture relief in Tochige, Japan and Tabula, a thirty-four-part marble relief at the New Stuyvesant High School in Battery Park, New York City, for which she won a New York City Art Commission Award for Design.
Selected collections include The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Whitney Museum of American Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Detroit Institute of Art; The Philadelphia Museum; the Brooklyn Museum; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Musée d’Art de Toulon; Parrish Art Museum, Southhampton; Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the National Collection of Art, Canberra, Australia, among others. The selected private collections include those of Agnes Gund, Werner Kramarsky, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, New York; Jil Sander, Hamburg and the Ammann Collection, Zurich.
Stuart was a resident at the American Academy in Rome. Among the grants that she has received are John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship; four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two New York Foundation for the Arts grants, and a Ford Foundation grant. She is an Academician of the National Academy.
Niagara River Gorge Path Relocated / Art Park, Lewiston, NY,1975. 420' x 62" rock indentations, red Queenston, shale from the site, muslin mounted rag paper.
Solstice Cairns / Columbia River Gorge,1979. Overall 1,000 x 800 feet approx. 3,200 boulders.
Paradisi:A Garden Mural / Installation commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum, 1985-1986. 198" x 396" bees wax and plant pigments.
Extinct / 1992. 35 units, approx. 69"x95"x2", plants and seeds on hand printed rice paper.
- http://www.michellestuartstudio.com/ Michelle Stuart Website
- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/arts/design/13femi.html/ New York Times Website
- http://www.sculpture-center.org/pressSpecific.htm?id=11728 ArtForum Article on the Sculpture Center Website
- http://www.sculpture-center.org/pressSpecific.htm?id=11731 Sculpture Magazine on the Sculpture Center Website
Alloway, Lawrence. “Michelle Stuart: a Fabric of Significations” Artforum, v10, January, 1974. pp64–65.
———Michelle Stuart: An Illustrated Essay. New York: State University of New York at Oneonta, 1975.
———“A Book Review” Art-Rite magazine, #14, Winter, 1977.
———Michelle Stuart: Voyages. Hillwood Art Gallery, LIU, NY 1985.
Beal, Graham W. J. Michelle Stuart: Place and Time. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1983.
———Second Sight Biennial IV. San Francisco: Museum of Modern Art, 1986.
Casey, Edward S. Earth Mapping: Artists Reshaping Landscape. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
Cullen, Deborah. “Strategies of Narration, Fifth International Cairo Biennale” in Arts in America, USIA, 1994.
Foreman, Richard. Natural Histories. Santa Fe: Bellas Artes, 1996.
Gregg, Gail. “Natural Selection Studio”. ARTnews, March 1999. pp. 98–99.
Hobbs, Robert. “Michelle Stuart: Atavism, Geomythology and Zen”. Womanart, vol. 1, no.4 Spring-Summer 1977.
———Michelle Stuart, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1977.
Lippard, Lucy R. From the Center, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1976.
———“Art Outdoors: In and Out of the Public Domain”. Studio International, vol. 193, no. 2, Mar.-Apr. 1977.
———“A New Landscape Art”, MS Magazine, Apr. 1977.
———“Quite Contrary: Body, Nature, and Ritual in Women's Art”, Chrysalis, #2, Los Angeles, CA, 1977.
———“Surprises: An Anthological Introduction to Some Women Artists’ Books”, Chrysalis, No.5, Los Angeles, CA, 1977.
———Strata: Nancy Graves, Eva Hesse, Michelle Stuart, Jackie Winsor. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1977.
———Michelle Stuart: From the Silent Garden, (Introduction) Williamstown, MA: Williams College, 1979.
Lovelace, Carey. “Michelle Stuart’s Silent Gardens” Arts Magazine, September, 1988. pp77–79.
Munro, Eleanor. Originals: American Women Artists. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Stoops, Susan. Silent Gardens-the American Landscape. Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University), 1988.
———Ashes in Arcadia. Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University), 1988.
———“Michelle Stuart: A Personal Archeology”, Woman's Art Journal, vol. 14, #2, Fall 1993-Winter 1994. pp. 17–21.
———More Than Minimal: Feminism and Abstraction in the 1970s, Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University), 1996.
Robert Storr. On the Edge: Contemporary Art from the Werner and Elaine Dannheiser Collection, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1997.
Ruzicka, Joseph. “Essential Light: The Skies of Michelle Stuart”, Art in America, June 2000. pp. 86–89.
Varnedoe, Kirk. Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984.
Westfall, Stephen. “Melancholy Mapping” Art in America, February, 1987. pp 104–9.