Art Term Tuesday: Juxtaposition

Kaitlin Binkley, Marketing Coordinator

Putting two or more dissimilar objects next to each other is called juxtaposition. This creates automatic comparisons between the objects by asking how they are different, how are they similar, and what the artist is trying to convey, simply by putting the two together. Juxtaposition isn’t just in visual media but also literary writing, song and sound, and in the spontaneity of life. 

In the new exhibit By Women: A Selection from the Permanent Collection, all the artworks on display were created by women artists. In this exhibit, one can juxtapose two artists of the same nationality, time period, or even by name and new ideas can emerge. Compare these two lithographs below, both made in the 1970s: Mary Bauermeister’s 1973 Rainbow and Marisol’s 1975 Women’s Equality.  

An abstract lithograph, or print, by Mary Bauermeister, this work is criscrossed by a rainbow X. Beaneath it are formulas and equations, as well as the artists handwriting in black.
Mary Bauermeister, German, b. 1934. Rainbow. Lithograph, 1937. Gift of Argosy Partners and Bond Street Partners, 1980.09.2. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.
This gestural, lithographic drawing is a dual portrait of prominent suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Standton and Lucretia Mott. Their faces are completed and they hold hands while the rest of their bodies are left opaque. There are floating hands resting on their shoulders.
Marisol, Venezuelan, 1930-2016. Women’s Equality. Lithograph, 1975. Gift of the Lorillard Co., 1976.05.9. Photo courtesy of FWMOA.

What similarities can we find between the two? Both were made by women in the 1970s, both are lithographs, and both have fantastic, vibrant colors. Mary Bauermeister was part of the Fluxus movement, and through their art they worked to change the balance of power in the art world. Marisol’s piece depicts two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, prominent suffragettes who in their lives worked to change the balance of power between women and men. What contrasts can we find? Mary’s piece is gestural and abstract, has equations and numerals but no figurative components. Marisol has two recognizable portraits of real-world figures. One is vertical, the other horizontal. Mary is German while Marisol was born in France to Venezuelan parents who then became an American citizen in her thirties. We can find many things to compare and contrast with just these two pieces of art!

Juxtaposition is not the same as contrast. Contrast is a principle of design, a building block for artists to use to build visual interest. Contrast can be a texture, strong light and shadow, or a difference in scale between objects. To highlight the differences between two things, an artist might place them close together so that they contrast one another. Juxtaposing asks the viewer to find the differences and similarities. A curator might place an early work in an exhibition besides a later piece by the same artist to imply the passage of time and building of skill and life experiences. 

By Women is a group show, where there is rarely more than one artwork per artist on display. Compare that to a solo exhibition like Salvador Dalí’s Stairway to Heaven, where every work is by a single artist. What juxtapositions can we draw from these two types of exhibitions? By Women was created using artwork that the Fort Wayne Museum of Art owns and holds in trust in the permanent collection. The Dalí exhibit was curated by the Park West Foundation and Park West Museum and is a traveling exhibition, meaning it will leave the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and go on exhibit at various other museums in the United States and abroad. Multiple artworks by one artist can show the range of that artist, the breadth of their skill and message. A single work in a group show is a snapshot of an artist’s career, a single moment in time. The impact of their message could be lessened when not part of a larger portfolio. However, their part in the history of art can be better cemented in a group show, as no artist creates in a vacuum and influences can be easily spotted and followed. 

When you next visit the museum, we ask you to look for the juxtapositions in the galleries. Share what you find with others on your visit, as you each might see something different! Juxtapose the solo exhibit Hidden Truths: New Paintings by Francisco Valverde to the solo exhibit Hope Dies Last: The New Armenia, Photographs by Michelle Andonian or the group show By Women: Selections from the Permanent Collection with our other group show Here and Now: A Survey of New Contemporary Art

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