Women in Love: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Morgan Laurens
When D.H. Lawrence finally succeeded in publishing his Modernist masterwork Women in Love, it was 1920, a scant two years after the UK Parliament passed laws allowing women over 30 to vote for the first time. Not coincidentally, WWI—”the war to end all wars” as it was famously dubbed at the time—wrapped up in 1918 after four years of butchery unlike anything the world had seen before.
It’s in this context that we’re introduced to the Brangwen sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, who form the philosophical heart of Lawrence’s heady novel. Early on, the sisters—Ursula a schoolteacher and Gudrun just returned from art school—debate the merits of marriage with a startling lack of girlish sentimentality. While Gudrun wonders whether marriage is an experience worth having, Ursula is quick to point out that it’s more likely to be the “end of experience,” a shocking observation in 1920 that still feels right at home in the 21st century.
Banned in the UK for its homoerotic subtext and frank depiction of female sexuality, Women in Love, and its prequel, The Rainbow, follows the sisters’ progression through womanhood and the complex, emotionally charged relationships that follow. Both sisters meet and become involved with men over the course of the two novels, but Lawrence is careful to establish love as a many-splendored thing that roots itself in same-sex romance, spirituality, friendship, and familial bonds alike. As both a cliché and philosophical necessity, love, at least in Lawrence’s view, poses more questions than answers.
Nearly a century after its hard-won publication, we humbly present our very own version of Women in Love. By turns bitter, dreamy, funny, obscene, and erotic, the work in our second show builds on the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding grand romantic narratives in the original novel. Now living under the shadow of increased existential threat—AI takeover, nuclear annihilation, a new cold war—we return to the idea of love in all its complexity, now situated at the cusp of an increasingly unsettled future.
Women in Love Today: Fairy Tales, Sacrifice, and Joy
The artists included in this show all approach the motif from different angles. In “Grandma Love and Mombie,” Amy Reidel reimagines our syrupy obsession with happy endings and fairytales as a protective filter shielding us from the crushing realities of that sacrifice. Tiffany Sutton’s “A Woman’s Daughters” places Black women and their experiences front and center, encouraging us to look closely at multiple meanings, dual perceptions, and the infinite possibilities contained inside one person.
Self, Sex, and Performance
Experimental photographer Andi Avery contributes two works (“Annie at Home #1” and “Annie at Home #2”) that bring subdued sexiness to the farcical camp of Marina Shaltout’s snake-inspired video series. Pulled from her Snake Woman installation, the videos explore how gender norms affect the ways women are expected to perform femininity. In “She Who Turns Men To Cardboard,” we see Snake Woman gazing into a heart-shaped mirror. In “She Who Eats Forbidden Apples,” she is, of course, eating forbidden fruit. (Please note that stills from each video were used in this show. For full videos, go here.)
Created over a period of several years, photographer Jacqueline Baerwald’s EmBRAce Project captures the outlines of imagined women whose hearts carry the intimate history of a life lived. Included in the show, “Gwendoline” wears a sky blue bra and reads romance novels. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Casey Newberg’s work takes a darker tone, eager to shock with foul language and rusted metal. The metalsmith and jewelry maker uses a combination of plastic and steel to create lewd “vending machine” items that appeal to the angry teenager inside all of us. Just try saying no to her “Say Yes” ring pack or “B*tch” keychain drape pin.
Death, Hope, and Romance
Within the pages of Beautiful Mess, Ohio artist Liz Maugans records a year laden with sorrow, endless sympathy cards, and the little joys found in between. Using discarded canvas, old drawings, and found materials, the artist allows her personal memories to mingle with those of her loved ones, creating a multi-faceted narrative layered with different perspectives. “Girlnica” and “The Last Bikini” are embedded with the chaos and beauty of everyday life. Liz invites viewers to experience a life lived in all its raw entirety, turning a deeply personal body of work into a means of connection.
Flowers, a reliable symbol of love—and death—appear repeatedly throughout Masha Morgunova’s Polaroid photography and Jamie Rose’s cast sculptures. In Masha’s dreamy “California Swimmer,” a dark-haired figure bobs in a flower-latticed lagoon. In both “Bouquet Toss” and “Something’s Not Right,” Jamie illuminates superficial applications of love—corporate slogans, emotional manipulation, or just plain overuse—that skew our understanding of its depth.
Jamie’s treatment of wood and glass suggests a fascination with preservation and destruction. Her work appears frozen in time, petrified with age and perfectly preserved, like a holy relic. In the real world, flowers die and love fades. But Jamie’s work suggests we’ll kneel before the altar of love indefinitely, devoted to the cause long after the bloom is gone.