Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design

In collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is presenting Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design.

The exhibition celebrates the instrumental role women have played in the world of design through art works and objects dating from the mid-19th century onwards.

Dorothy Hafner (née en 1952), service à café Fred Flintstone, Flash Gordon et Marie Antoinette (forme); Blue Loop with Headdress [Boucle bleue avec coiffure] (décor), 1984 (exemplaire de 1988). MBAM, collection Liliane et David M. Stewart. Photo Annie Fafard
Dorothy Hafner (born in 1952), Fred Flintstone, Flash Gordon and Marie Antoinette coffee service (form); Blue Loop with Headdress (decoration), 1984 (example of 1988). MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. Photo Annie Fafard
In addition, it examines the reasons why women are underrepresented in the history of this discipline and encourages an expanded understanding of what constitutes design. It is also the first exhibition to connect the work of both American and Canadian women designers and designer-makers.

Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design tells a sweeping story of perseverance, creativity and triumph. It highlights the breadth and complexity of design pieces made by American and Canadian women by situating these works against the backdrop of social, political and personal issues that shaped their experiences across time.

The exhibition also considers the intersectionality of gender, identity, race, culture and class to provide a deeper understanding of the varied roles and achievements of women. It traces the development of educational and professional opportunities available to women, the evolution of the status of crafts and the impact that women’s rights movements had on their practices.

“This exhibition reveals that the vital role these North American women creators have played in the history of design has been perpetually minimized or excluded from the dominant narrative. By shining a light on the gendered nature of design practice, it enables us to draw parallels between certain societal-level prejudices and the course of design history,” says Jennifer Laurent, curator of the exhibition.

Bringing together close to 250 art works and objects, the exhibition adopts a broad definition of design that extends from artisanal craftwork to industrial design, including ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, furniture, consumer products, graphics, fashion and interior design.

One third of the objects presented come from the MMFA’s design collection, among the largest of its kind in North America. Parall(elles) also boasts numerous works on loan from the Stewart Program for Modern Design, private collections, and some thirty Canadian and American museum institutions.

Among the exhibited creations, visitors will discover remarkable vases from the Arts and Crafts movement, a Tiffany lamp – a veritable jewel of design from the early 20th century inspired by a drawing by Clara Driscoll –, a tubular chrome-plated steel desk by Jeannette Meunier Biéler and a rare example of the influence of Bauhaus on Canadian design, the sculptural Museum coffee service by American-Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel, and an assortment of jewellery and evening gowns that attest to the break-through of women into the fashion and jewellery-making industries during the interwar period.

The public will also have a chance to admire the unique prototype Fancy Free Corvette, designed by Ruth Glennie for General Motors in 1958, as well as many modern objects and furniture items, including original editions of such pieces as the iconic LCW chair by Charles and Ray Eames and the Spindle wall clock (1957-1958) by Lucia DeRespinis for George Nelson Associates.

Ruth Glennie (1929-2018) pour General Motors, Corvette Fancy Free, 1958. Collection Jürgen Reimer, Allemagne
Ruth Glennie (1929-2018) for General Motors, Fancy Free Corvette, 1958. Collection of Jürgen Reimer, Germany

The fluidity of movement between the realms of art, craft and design, which manifested in the creations women as of the 1970s, will notably be reflected in works by Judy Chicago, Sonya Clark, Madeleine Dansereau, Mary Lee Hu, Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Faith Ringgold, Joyce J. Scott and Cindy Sherman, to name a few.

Parall(elles) will also highlight local, present-day creativity through works by Quebec and Canadian artists and designers such as Lani Adeoye, Eliza Au, Marie-Hélène Beaulieu, Chifen Cheng, Maryse Chartrand, Ying Gao, Zoë Mowat, Anastasia Radevich, Shay Salehi and Natasha Thorpe.

The MMFA has commissioned Molly Hatch to create a massive mosaic composed of 198 hand-painted terracotta plates that will dominate the grand staircase of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, where the exhibition will be presented. 

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