Plains Art Museum recognizes “Mothers of Invention”

Plains Art Museum in Fargo is paying tribute to women artists it considers “Mothers of Invention;” the series of shows begins with a look at the work of Rochester sculptor Judy Onofrio.

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“Delicate Balance” by Judy Onofrio

The show is called “See Acts of Audacious Daring! The Circus World of Judy Onofrio” and features four of Onofrio’s life-sized floor sculptures from the last decade, ten recent wall sculptures, and two smaller floor sculptures alongside examples of historic circus banners, posters, and carvings that have influenced her work.

Plains Art Museum Director Colleen Sheehy says Onofrio is a perfect candidate for the “Mothers of Invention” series because she’s bold, innovative and inconclastic:

She’s bold because she has never let obstacles get in the way of pursuing her art career. She comes from an unconventional background, not having gone to art school but learning from her Aunt Trude, from other artists, from the culture around her that she found captivating, and from her own experimentation.

Her work has shown an impressive level of ambition–whether in the large, outdoor “fire” pieces that would be burned at the end in a big spectacle, to the large scale environments she’s created in ‘Judyland’ exhibitions and her own home to the large circus sculptures that are in our exhibition.

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“Three of a Kind” by Judy Onofrio

Sheehy admires Onofrio’s inventive use of materials in her sculptures, from bottle caps to Mrs. Butterworth bottles of syrup to, more recently, bones.

Her work has such a pleasure in viewing it, as your mind and eyes switch from the overall piece to the minute details and back and forth. And you end up being so awed by the passion, the obsession, and the joy of it all. It’s a rare work of art that engages you so fully.

Onofrio’s exhibition runs through January 8; the next in the series will be Marjorie

Schlossman, an abstract artist based in Fargo. Sheehy says what joins these women together is they’re part of a generation of artists who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s and who worked to dismantle barriers for women in the visual arts.

They made art, formed collectives, started galleries, taught at art schools, and gave each other critical and moral support to dismantle the barriers that had existed against women in the visual arts. They changed the art world profoundly, altering ideas about the canon of art history and the meaning of terms such as “masterpiece,” “artist,” “gaze,” and “body,” as well as expanding what could be considered acceptable art materials, subjects, imagery, and boundaries between art forms. Their impact has spread throughout art and culture and is not confined to their own or other women’s work.

Sheehy says the tendency to overlook, ignore, or forget the artistic contributions of women has been particularly prominent in the Midwest; she sees this exhibition series as an opportunity to rectify that.

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