• by Cathy Breslaw

Four Women Artists: Experiments in Stone at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Many artists focus on mastering one medium throughout their career lifetimes. Curated by Alana Hernandez, the digital exhibition Experiments on Stone at MOCA San Diego takes visitors through the practices of four women artists who stepped out of their chosen mediums to experiment with lithographic prints at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in the 1960’s.


Lithography is a two-dimensional ink printing method on stone or metal and at Tamarind, artists experimented and collaborated with several different printers in the process of creating their works on paper. Founded by artist June Wayne in 1960, Tamarind was to be a place to restore the art of lithography which had dwindled during the 1950s due to economic issues. In the first decade of the workshop over two hundred artists were invited to train in this method and work with master printers. Many of them were women, and among them were well established twentieth century artists Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa, Gego and Louise Nevelson.


While Albers and Asawa shared a foundation in weaving, Nevelson and Gego focused on the use of line to create architectural forms and building. Albers was known for her use of vivid color relationships and patterning in weavings and textiles. She found that prints not only allowed her to create thread forms in a painterly way that loosely resembled weaving, but also incorporate acid to produce splotched and cloudy grounds. The production of prints also gave Albers a practical way to show this two-dimensional work.


Anni Albers   Enmeshed I,1963    Color Lithograph   20.25" x 27" Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art  Gift of Mr./Mrs. Martin L. Gleich, San Diego, 1964.109 (c) 2021 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York
Anni Albers, Enmeshed I, 1963

Asawa used ‘line’ or ‘thread’ by working with wire to create delicate weavings of three-dimensional sculptural shapes and installations referencing natural forms. Asawa attended Tamarind in 1965 where she developed over fifty prints from themes of abstractions, portraits and flower studies. In Desert Plant Asawa used sacred radial geometry of the natural world in warm colors composed of forms resembling branches. This work highlighted her experimentation with both color and form.

Ruth Asawa, Desert Plant (TAM.1460), 1965, Color Lithograph, 18.5" x 18.5", Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Gift of Mr./Mrs. Martin L. Gleich, San Diego, 1970.111 (c) 2021 Estate of Ruth Asawa/ Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York
Ruth Asawa, Desert Plant, 1965

Artist Gego (born Gertrude Goldschmidt) also used wire as her primary medium, and her practice also focused on the ‘line’. In contrast, however, Gego used wire as a kind of drawing tool to create abstracted three-dimensional forms that reflected her background in architecture, making loosely formed grid-like structures that organically flowed in space. At Tamarind, Gego explored the containment and expansiveness of two-dimensional space using drawn black thick and thin calligraphic lines, curvy and straight.


When Nevelson attended Tamarind, she had not previously experimented with lithographs. She was known for her sculptures - monumental wood wall pieces and outdoor sculptures constructed from found objects and fragmented items that she re-visioned into new artwork. With lithographs, Nevelson produced prints that referenced similar themes to those in her sculptures. She would draw and build with the use of objects like erasers, lace, cheesecloth, and torn fabrics pressed into mostly black, and occasionally dark blue and brick-red ink and then applied directly on to stone. These experimental ideas were then translated to various papers into prints.


The digital exhibition displays seventy-eight prints which come from the museum’s collection, providing a snapshot of the Tamarind Workshop during the 1960’s and of the prints by Albers, Asawa, Gego and Nevelson. Alongside these prints, viewers will see examples of their three-dimensional artworks coming from their primary art practices. Experiments in Stone gives viewers a glimpse into four artists’ creative processes as they apply a willingness to make time from their established modes of art-making to experiment and ‘see what happens’. Click here to view the exhibition.