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A portrait project draws L.A. female artists to Hauser Wirth & Schimmel for a joyous flash mob

A portrait project draws L.A. female artists to Hauser Wirth & Schimmel for a joyous flash mob
Hundreds of female artists pose for a group portrait in the courtyard of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

For artist Kim Schoenstadt, it began as a simple idea: Bring together a group of female artists from around Los Angeles for a group portrait — a way of recognizing the presence of women in a field that remains dominated by men.

Little did she know that hundreds of female artists from around the city — including photographer Catherine Opie, light and space artist Helen Pashgian and assemblagist Betye Saar, who showed up accompanied by her daughters, artists Alison and Lezley Saar — would all pile into the courtyard at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel on Sunday at midday for an epic group portrait.

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"I'm so thrilled!" exclaimed Schoenstadt in the moments after photographers managed to capture the buoyant crowd on film. "The beautiful thing is that everyone wanted to be accounted for, they wanted to be present."

The project, titled "Now Be Here," was inspired by the gallery's current exhibition, "Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016," curated by gallery partner Paul Schimmel and feminist scholar Jenni Sorkin, and examining the often overlooked role of women in the 20th century history of sculpture.

For her tribute, Schoenstadt says she was interested in acknowledging the countless female painters, sculptors, photographers and conceptualists who create work — whether it is acknowledged by art world institutions or not.

"For every artist whose work hangs on the wall," she says, "there are other artists who just don't make it into the gallery."

The project will ultimately reside as an online archive, with information about each of the artists who was present.

Assemblage artist Betye Saar, center, with her daughters, artists Lezley Saar, left, and Alison Saar.
Assemblage artist Betye Saar, center, with her daughters, artists Lezley Saar, left, and Alison Saar. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
Women gather to pose for a group portrait organized by Kim Schoenstadt. The numbers will help identify them in the picture, which will ultimately go online.
Women gather to pose for a group portrait organized by Kim Schoenstadt. The numbers will help identify them in the picture, which will ultimately go online. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

While the project, at its heart, addresses difficult issues of female representation in the fine arts, the assembled group of artists couldn't have been more jubilant when they came together at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel.

Hundreds of laughing, hugging women materialized at the downtown gallery on Sunday morning — like a joyous flash mob. (The organizers did not have a final count of participants on Sunday afternoon.)

"I thought the old guard should be here," said Betye Saar, 90, who was perched in a seat at one end of the gallery, where a line of younger artists came to pay their respects and snap selfies. "People have told me that I've inspired them, so I think I'm doing a good job!" she added with a laugh.

"It's historic," said Lezley Saar. "It's a once in a lifetime kind of thing, to get this many artists together."

Painter Sandy Rodriguez, left, photographer Isabel Castro and multimedia artist Barbara Carrasco came out to participate in the group portrait.
Painter Sandy Rodriguez, left, photographer Isabel Castro and multimedia artist Barbara Carrasco came out to participate in the group portrait. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
A photographer captures the crowd gathered inside the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel courtyard.
A photographer captures the crowd gathered inside the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel courtyard. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Barbara Carrasco, a multimedia Chicana artist, who caravanned to the shoot with fellow artists Sandy Rodriguez and Isabel Castro, said, "I'm here to show support as a female artist to other female artists — and we have to be present as women of color."

Lara Schnitger, known for creating humorous ceremonial ensigns crafted from women's bloomers (she has work featured at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and in November will lead a feminist-themed performance titled "Suffragette City" at the Hammer Museum) said the whole event was an important "moment of recognition."

Aandrea Stang, who oversees the education department at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, says that the piece is the sort of action that can help build community between groups of artists who don't ordinarily come together — old and young, black and white and brown, sculptors and photographers and painters.

With the help of a bullhorn, Stang helped orchestrate the unwieldy shoot from a roof overlooking the courtyard. She said it was moving to look down and see hundreds of female artists, ready to take their places.

"This was," she says, "a way to bring the show to life."

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Artist Kim Schoenstadt, left, who organized the shoot, with painter Carolyn Castaño.
Artist Kim Schoenstadt, left, who organized the shoot, with painter Carolyn Castaño. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
The group — which included notable Los Angeles artists such as Catherine Opie and Betye Saar — poses for a portrait.
The group — which included notable Los Angeles artists such as Catherine Opie and Betye Saar — poses for a portrait. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
Aandrea Stang, head of education at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, helps oversee the group portrait.
Aandrea Stang, head of education at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, helps oversee the group portrait. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
The crowd lets loose after the photo is finished.
The crowd lets loose after the photo is finished. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
The group shoot drew plenty of observers, including this chilled-out pooch.
The group shoot drew plenty of observers, including this chilled-out pooch. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Where: Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 901 E. 3rd St., downtown Los Angeles

When: Through Sunday

Info: hauserwirthschimmel.com; for more on Kim Schoenstadt's project, "Now Be Here," visit kimschoenstadt.com

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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