Truth or Fiction?

We encountered para fiction in many different practices in our readings. I begin to think about the idea of truth, fiction, deception, exaggeration, and the LIE.  In thinking about these concepts in creative work, I am thinking about how to create something that is not quite either…but perhaps both.. with TRUTH embedded within the work…

The Art Institute of Chicago


“Woman and the Painted Spirit”

An Exhibition of Women Painters 1910-2010

100 Years of Art


Marion Mahony-Griffin

Georgia O’Keeffe

Judy Chicago

Alice Babers

Patricia Rain Gianneschi

Hilma af Klint


Special Lecture


Sylvia Rohr

Art History Professor

The School of The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday September 2, 2012

6 p.m.

New Women’s Gallery Theater

Marion Mahony-Griffin Wing


We begin this evening’s lecture tour by looking at three women featured in this exhibition.

Why these women?

Each painter featured, in this exhibition, pioneered a life-style and a style of Art that was, either rejected, misunderstood or left unrecognized by the establishment of the so-called Art World, with the exception of O’Keeffe. Why?

   This is what we will investigate this evening.

Perhaps the greatest dilemma we have is coming to terms with the forgotten artist, Marion Mahony-Griffin. Dying alone, in Cook County hospital, Marion was cremated and placed in an unmarked grave in Chicago.

Until the late 1900’s, Marion lay forgotten in Grace land cemetery, in Chicago. It was the work of a fellow artist in this exhibition, also a Chicago artist, Patricia Rain Gianneschi, that helped to establish Marion’s place in this museum as the genius behind the Prairie School Style of Architecture. Gianneschi brought to light her story, creating a performance Art piece that combined, ballet, drama, painting, historical research, and a bit of revelation, with the students of George B. Armstrong School of International Studies in Chicago’s Roger’s Park in 1999. The piece will be performed for the first time since the children’s performance, this evening as part of the opening of this newly built theater, honoring the artist, Marion Mahony-Griffin.   This Performance Art piece, a two year collaboration between The Art Institute of Chicago, The Chicago Public Schools, The Chicago Conservation Center and The Polk Brothers Foundations was part of ‘The City In Art Project “ from 1999 – 2002, and was mainstreamed on the web site of The Art Institute in 2000. It remains there today, as one of the highlights of early technological advances in Museum Education at the turn of the new millennium, prior to the creation of the Art Institute’s New Modern Wing. I was the coordinator for that project. This piece featured one of the only surviving murals by Marion Mahony-Griffin. It is the feature painting of this exhibition. It was restored in 1998. It features a nest of blue heron, being fed by their mother with several woodland fairies assisting. In the second panel, we see the father heron “winging his way”, with more fish to feed his babes, while two water fairies assist him. Marion’s belief in fairies captivated Gianneschi and her young students, and it was through her research she discovered an unpublished manuscript here at the Burnham Library entitled “The Magic in America”. Here Marion described her mural at Armstrong,

“standing on a table in the hallway to paint it”, and her belief in fairies.

Gianneschi eventually wrote a children’s book, and some of these some of the paintings are featured in this exhibition. One painting in particular, created in the summer of 2002 at Ox-Bow in Saugatuck Michigan, where she was Artist In Residence, was used as the illustration for the page that told of the year of Marion’s birth, 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire. Instead of a cow, as the story goes, we see a horse, as the animal who “kicked the lantern and started the fire”. Upon closer examination, we see that the horse in the painting was inspired by the Mexican Muralist, Diego Rivera. It was after the painting was completed that she realized she had confused the story and remarked,

“It was the horse who kicked the cow, who kicked the lantern, that started the fire! We’ll tell a new story!”

The painting is full of images reminiscent of Kandinsky. Rain studied the writings and paintings of Wassily Kandinsky both as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and as a graduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His writings compliment the writings of Rudolf Steiner, and together these spiritual artists influenced the early development of her work. She is a spiritual painter with influences from Rudolf Steiner, and Arthur Dow, to Peter Voulkos and Hans Hoffman. Two of these influences we know O’Keeffe shared, Arthur Dow and Rudolf Steiner.

Marion Mahony-Griffin was a Theosophist, and a follower of Rudolf Steiner. Her architectural genius is evident in the work she did in Australia and India, illustrating their common belief in the spiritual aspect of architecture. The work that is included in the text, ‘THE GRIFFINS IN AUSTRALIA & INDIA”, by Turnball & Navaretti, documents her architectural genius. She did in fact, create the first modern architecture on the continent of Australia. Her renderings of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural drawings, most of which have not been seen until this exhibition, are executed on silk. These beautiful renderings lead one to believe, that she too was aware of the teachings of Arthur Dow and his compositional exercises known as Notan, a concept in Japanese Art. Notan is a Japanese word that means, “dark, light”. It refers to the quantity of light reflected, or the massing of tones of different values. Notan beauty means the harmony resulting from the combination of dark and light spaces – whether colored or not – whether in buildings, in pictures or in nature. Certainly we can make a strong argument that Marion was aware of these concepts, and that after Frank Lloyd Wright visited Japan, these concepts influenced the development of The Prairie School Style of Architecture. We know today Marion is the second most important founding member of The Prairie School. The idea of enclosing sacred space, of being in harmony with nature, utilizing the elements of ‘Notan”, and a search for spiritual truth, are themes that are repeated in the work of all three artists in this exhibition of many, we have chosen to focus on this evening.

What was different about O’Keeffe that allowed her work to be seen and her success celebrated for most of her artistic life. Was there a struggle for O’Keeffe? Unlike Marion, O’Keeffe enjoyed success at an early age, and certainly was not forgotten. Was Alfred Steiglitz the reason for her success? Would O’Keeffe’s work be as well known had it not been for her association with the most important curator of early Modern Art?   We can never know. What we do know is that she was fortunate to have the luxury of a rich artistic career, with the time and money to focus on the development of her artistic philosophies. She had no children, but did teach in her early career. Marion Mahony-Griffin, like Gianneschi, spent her later years , after the death of her husband, in the nurturing and raising of children. Marion took her three orphaned grandnieces and nephews in, and raised them as her own, donating the materials documenting her career to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Patricia Rain Gianneschi, raised two adopted children and taught Art at the same school as Marion Mahony-Griffin’s sister taught art in the 1920’S, the home of “The Woodland Fairy Mural we looked at on this evening’s tour. Their choice to become the caretakers of children, certainly affected the time spent making art and the time spent developing philosophies of their Art. But both artists managed to develop strong platforms based on their mentors and the philosophies set down by the spiritual artist, Rudolf Steiner. O’Keeffe’s spirituality was enriched by her life in the high desert of New Mexico and the spiritual environment surrounding her in that Native-American landscape. Her love of polished bones and smooth rocks, which she collected and are still on display at her home in Abiqui, New Mexico, I feel, connect her to the spiritual beliefs in early Japanese Shinto. Gianneschi lived and worked in Japan for four years, and all three artists had a connection to the spirituality of Japan and the art-forms developed from eastern spiritual belief systems. We know that Gianneschi was influenced also by the work of Hilma af Klint, and the work of her teacher Alice Babers, wife of Paul Jenkins. She also studied with and was mentored by Peter Voulkos at University of California Berkeley, where she earned her first degree in Art.  Her connection to Judy Chicago was during her studies at UC Berkeley where she Judy at the opening of “The Dinner Party” in San Francico in the mid-1970’s. The influence of Klint, led her to investigate many of the symbolist painters and the era of the Spiritualists in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in America and around the world.

These women painters were responding to their environments and the influences of modernity and the spirituality of the times.

images  Marion Mahony Griffin


Alice Babers “Through Sleep to Orange”


P. RAIN Gianneschi The Great Chicago Fire” 

Chicago Fire 1873

okeeffe_series_i-no.3_479Georgia O’Keeffeimages-2



Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862-October 21, 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were

amongst the first abstract art.  These were painted 1902-1907


Judy Chicago

“The Dinner Party”

One of the most, if not the most, important creative work done on the history of women.

In the 1970’s Chicago was part of the founding of “Woman House” in L.A.

She was at the forefront of the Women’s Movement.

th-5 thth-1

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