Cover Image, from left to right: Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), designed by Clara Driscoll (1861-1944), Peacock table lamp, about 1905, made by Tiffany Studios, New York. MMFA, purchase, Claire Gohier Fund, gift of Gérald-Henri Vuillien and Christophe Pilaire in honour of being granted Canadian permanent resident status, Ruth Jackson Bequest, gift of the International Friends of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and gift of Joan and Martin Goldfarb. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière | Ruth Glennie (1929-2018) for General Motors, Fancy Free Corvette, 1958. Collection of Jürgen Reimer, Germany | Lani Adeoye (born in 1989), Lilo chair, 2015. MMFA, in process of acquisition. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière
In collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is presenting Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design. This major exhibition celebrates the instrumental role women have played in the world of design through a rich corpus of art works and objects dating from the mid-19th century onwards. In addition, it examines the reasons why women are underrepresented in the history of this discipline and encourages an expanded understanding of what constitutes design. It is also the first exhibition to connect the work of both American and Canadian women designers and designer-makers.
Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design tells a sweeping story of perseverance, creativity and triumph. It highlights the breadth and complexity of design pieces made by American and Canadian women by situating these works against the backdrop of social, political and personal issues that shaped their experiences across time. The exhibition also considers the intersectionality of gender, identity, race, culture and class to provide a deeper understanding of the varied roles and achievements of women. It traces the development of educational and professional opportunities available to women, the evolution of the status of crafts and the impact that women’s rights movements had on their practices. Finally, beyond revisiting traditional definitions of “design,” Parall(elles) opens a window onto a world of magnificent beauty and skill.
“This exhibition reveals that the vital role these North American women creators have played in the history of design has been perpetually minimized or excluded from the dominant narrative. By shining a light on the gendered nature of design practice, it enables us to draw parallels between certain societal-level prejudices and the course of design history. The exhibition aims to broaden and enrich the complex narrative of women and this branch of art, by reappraising the historical work through a modern-day lens and fostering a deeper understanding of contemporary contributions,” explains Jennifer Laurent, curator of the exhibition.
A fresh take on North American design of the past 150 years
Bringing together close to 250 art works and objects, the exhibition adopts a broad definition of design that extends from artisanal craftwork to industrial design, including ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, furniture, consumer products, graphics, fashion and interior design.
One third of the objects presented come from the MMFA’s design collection, among the largest of its kind in North America. Parall(elles) also boasts numerous works on loan from the Stewart Program for Modern Design, private collections, and some thirty Canadian and American museum institutions.
Among the exhibited creations, visitors will discover remarkable vases from the Arts and Crafts movement, a Tiffany lamp – a veritable jewel of design from the early 20th century inspired by a drawing by Clara Driscoll –, a tubular chrome-plated steel desk by Jeannette Meunier Biéler and a rare example of the influence of Bauhaus on Canadian design, the sculptural Museum coffee service by American-Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel, and an assortment of jewellery and evening gowns that attest to the break-through of women into the fashion and jewellery-making industries during the interwar period.
The public will also have a chance to admire the unique prototype Fancy Free Corvette, designed by Ruth Glennie for General Motors in 1958, as well as many modern objects and furniture items, including original editions of such pieces as the iconic LCW chair by Charles and Ray Eames and the Spindle wall clock (1957-1958) by Lucia DeRespinis for George Nelson Associates.
The fluidity of movement between the realms of art, craft and design, which manifested in the creations women as of the 1970s, will notably be reflected in works by Judy Chicago, Sonya Clark, Madeleine Dansereau, Mary Lee Hu, Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Faith Ringgold, Joyce J. Scott and Cindy Sherman, to name a few.
Parall(elles) will also highlight local, present-day creativity through works by Quebec and Canadian artists and designers such as Lani Adeoye, Eliza Au, Marie-Hélène Beaulieu, Chifen Cheng, Maryse Chartrand, Ying Gao, Zoë Mowat, Anastasia Radevich, Shay Salehi and Natasha Thorpe. Furthermore, many of the exhibited contemporary creations speak to the shift towards sustainable development, slow design, additive manufacturing, new technologies – from robotics to 3D printing – and object-making as a form of high art that have characterized design production in the past twenty years.
A monumental work by Molly Hatch
The MMFA has commissioned Molly Hatch to create a massive mosaic composed of 198 hand-painted terracotta plates that will dominate the grand staircase of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, where the exhibition will be presented. To execute this work, the American potter is drawing inspiration from an exquisite pseudo-cloisonné enamel vase produced by the Minton Manufactory based on a drawing by Christopher Dresser, which was recently acquired by the Museum.
The Museum is developing a number of related creative workshops for adults and families that delve into different design techniques, as well as lectures showcasing the work of women creators and seeking to impress the need to make this discipline even more inclusive. For its part, Bourgie Hall will be presenting a three-part concert series that shines the spotlight on female composers and musicians. On April 13, it will host saxophonist Christine Jensen and pianist Helen Sung, and on May 7, pianists Jeanne Amièle and Magda Boukanan will take to the stage. On May 26, five musicians from the OSM will perform two quintets for piano and strings by American composers Amy Beach and Florence Price, as well as the piece Music for Piano by Canadian composer Alexina Louie.
The exhibition will be complemented by an illustrated bilingual catalogue, published by the MMFA’s Publishing Department. This book features an essay by Jennifer Laurent, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, MMFA, and over 70 images of art works and objects from the exhibition.
Credits and curatorial team
An exhibition organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design.
Curator: Jennifer Laurent, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, MMFA
Exhibition design: Odile Gamache