Spanning decades and mediums, Komal Shah and Cecilia Alemani’s ongoing exhibition puts women artists in the limelight

What would an exhibition solely featuring women artists look like? Philanthropist and Top 200 collector Komal Shah and curator Cecilia Alemani put forth an answer with Making Their Mark, an exhibition where a hundred percent of the work on display comes from female creatives. With over 90 pieces by 84 different women—including Cecily Brown, Joan Mitchell, Faith Ringgold, Lorna Simpson, and Judy Chicago—the exhibition spans time and medium, exploding notions of who is allowed space in the art world.

Making Their Mark manifests the mission of the Shah Garg Foundation, which seeks to “envision and enact a more equitable society” within museums and galleries. It’s no wonder Alemani agreed to take on the project, having curated The Milk of Dreams, the 59th International Art Exhibition at the 2022 Venice Biennale, inspired by the late surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. This show is both a testament to the shared goal between Shah and Alemani, and to their friendship, which began over 10 years ago when the former started collecting in earnest.

Left: Emma Amos. Star, 1982. Right: Suzanne Jackson. Cut / Slip for Flowers, 2020.

“Eighty percent of what you see here was hanging [in Shah’s home],” Alemani tells Document. “I know very few collectors who really love living with art, and I think Komal is one of those [people].” Shah’s personal investment is evident—she can recount the detailed facts and figures of any given painting across her collection. “There was a moment when I wanted to include a lot more work [in the show], but I have a greedy, maximalist tendency,” she jokes. Shah and Alemani ultimately agreed to display about a third, the first time it’s been free and open to the public.

In the renovated former home of Dia Chelsea, it’s hard to picture how the sweeping abstraction of a Mary Weatherford painting and a Barbara Chase-Riboud bronze statue could coexist—at least at first. Under Alemani’s curation, the exhibition flows seamlessly across two expansive, light-filled floors, each room playing with a different concept, like light as material or pixelation. The throughline of abstraction is grounded by the presence of the body—implicit in the pulverized foam of Little Island/Gut Punch by Aria Dean, and explicit in Joan Semmel’s Horizons, a double portrait of the artist’s body in hyper-realistic detail, then bold, colorful brushstrokes. Many of the artists showcased continue to challenge conventional notions of portraiture, opting, as Alemani notes, to “paint the body from within.”

“Many of the artists showcased continue to challenge conventional notions of portraiture, opting, as Alemani notes, to ‘paint the body from within.’”

Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy Shah Garg Foundation.

Making Their Mark poses an even larger question to the art industry: What is considered canonical, and what is alternative? “I’m thinking about textile and fiber works that 10, 20 years ago, you would not have seen in a museum,” Alemani says. Harriet’s Quilt by Joyce J. Scott—a handmade wall-hanging composed entirely of glass beads—presides over the topmost room, a testament to themes of community, tying back to traditionally feminine handiwork. In seeking to showcase the triumphs of women artists, Alemani and Shah challenge what is considered high and low, art and craft—even notions around who gets their due, and when. Work from emerging creatives in their 20s hangs next to that of octogenarians who are just now receiving recognition, a range which Shah notes came from talking to artists her age about who inspires them. Making Their Mark centers this dialogue, convening foremothers and those they inspire while challenging the status quo.

Making Their Mark is on view at the Shah Garg Foundation at 548 West 22nd Street through January 27.