Andrea Geyer

Andrea Geyer, Revolt, They Said, 2015, ink-jet print on adhesive-backed fabric, 17 x 29”. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn.

In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art invited New York–based artist Andrea Geyer to perform an Artist Research Residency in the museum’s archives. The residency was supported by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation. Two pieces from the resulting body of works are currently on view at the museum: The video Insistence, 2013, which is on view through November 15, 2015, and the mural Revolt, They Said, 2012–, which runs through November 29, 2015.

A CURIOUS BLIND SPOT exists in MoMA’s archives when it comes to women and modernism. I was intrigued by the fact that the alliance between the three women— Lillie P. Bliss, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Mary Quinn Sullivan—who founded the museum in 1929 left no trace in the archives: no photographs, no correspondence. David Rockefeller, who was a teenager at the time, recounted to me that these women were close friends who met regularly at the Rockefeller home for tea and went to exhibitions together. An archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center informed me that relationships between women were not considered worth archiving until much later. Yet still today awareness around these women’s achievements remains sparse. I wondered: What are the systems and mechanisms that enable our continuous blindness and deafness around these histories? What does it take to disrupt this process? How to uncover our own patterns of nonrecognition?

This led me to work on a series of projects, two of which are up at MoMA now: the mural Revolt, They Said and the video Insistence. The former began with a wild energy I sensed emanating from my research. I had to find a way to diagrammatically to keep track of these lost cross-cultural, cross-class, and cross-generational histories. Revolt, They Said weaves together an intricate score of relationships between women and is also a blueprint of how social, cultural, political change did and can happen. The crisscrossing lines connect labor organizers, such Mabel Dodge; artists such as Katherine S. Dreier, Nancy Prophet, Hilma Af Klimt, Friedl Dicker, and Romaine Brooks; gallerists such as Edith Halpert and Katherine Kuh; social entrepreneurs such as Fay Jackson Robinson; and cultural revolutionaries such as Lucy Gwynne Branham, among others. Salons held by affluent women as informal social gatherings brought women of diverse social classes together to exchange ideas, strategies, and resources. This form of organizing, of studying together, should be of vital importance for us in our own socially conservative era, as there are current systems that render certain voices more audible while others continue to be misheard and misjudged. To mount this drawing at MoMA is an invitation to look at this history through the lens of women’s work as a road map or passage and envision how change happens. What alliances do we need to create and maintain today?

Andrea Geyer discusses her show at MoMA.

The second, related work, Insistence, features an overhead shot of a table in which a hand stacks black-and-white photographs of women along with some interjections of color reproductions of modern artworks. The voice-over is a monologue based on the early stages of my research. This work argues that we must persist in our utterances of the women’s histories and not fail to remember them. For me, following their narrative is akin to cutting across the grass instead of walking on the paved path. Across such passages, such desire lines made by people like you and me, insistence opens new trajectories, perspectives are shifted and through repetition new associations are made possible.

I differentiate between remembering this history and insistence. This idea comes out of Gertrude Stein’s lecture on “Portraits and Repetition,” one of four speeches she gave when she toured the US in 1935. The conundrum she brings forward is that in portraiture lies a danger of arresting a person in a fixed image and taking away their agency. The task she proposes instead is to find modes of representation that allow individuals and ideas represented to remain alive. I find insistence appropriate in the context of a history and institutions that would not exist as such without the work of women. It also invites us to face the work that needs to get done.

I started this project looking for what was not there; I saw my research residency as an opportunity to use MoMA as a resource rather than solely as a display for exhibition. I wanted to understand the logic of cultural ecologies that connect midtown New York to Mexico City, the Southwest to Rome, Harlem to Paris and so on. And I was encouraged by how resilient some of these histories are in the face of collective amnesia, how their power is never finite, but insistently continues to operate in an ever-evolving present.