“The California Years: 1967–1975” documents a momentous shift in Miriam Schapiro’s practice, from the wry, abstract feminist-futurism of her hard-edge paintings to the busy decadence of her mixed-media “femmages.” For her handsomely mod paintings in the former category, she used computer software to model and manipulate three-dimensional geometric structures. While the exhibition’s press release notes that these images are often “coded depictions of yonic forms,” we’re not talking about seashells and split melons here. In the pristinely painted Keyhole, 1971, a fiery red-orange and rose-colored mother ship approaches from a cloudless blue sky. The chic all-blue Horizontal Woman No. 2 from the same year slyly references a reclining nude with its blank virtual architecture. A kind of landscape, the painting depicts something resembling a compound of modernist bungalows built into a featureless hilltop.
Just two years later, Schapiro produced the unapologetically pink and decorated Voyage, 1973. Panels of floral-print fabric run along the top and bottom of the vertical painting, while lace curtains were used as spray-paint stencils on the sides, making the canvas a homey portal that opens into a void of dripping sunshine. Another stunning piece, Flying Carpet, 1972, with its quilt-like collage of patterned fabric and paper, anticipates the gynarchic density of her later, fan- and heart-shaped canvases. Schapiro’s passionate, activist-minded engagement with the craft traditions of women’s domestic labor made her an influential figure in the overlapping Pattern and Decoration and Women’s Art Movements, both of which fueled decades of innovative work. Luckily, these transporting, visually exuberant offerings are just the tip of the iceberg—she also has a survey show at the National Academy Museum through May 8.