Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe:
Tabernacles for Trying Times
“It’s like gay summer camp,” an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture tells me, describing the renowned Maine artist residency where Sheila Pepe and Carrie Moyer met. Although not an explicitly gay place, its wood-paneled structures seem to have a particularly queer alchemy. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it: revisionism is lesbian praxis. A deep friendship and eventual romance ensued, and the two have now been together for over two decades. Their shared investment in art and politics meant that they were strong influences on one another’s practices long before they first made work together in 2011. "Tabernacles for Trying Times," their exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design, New York, is their latest collaborative venture.
Moyer, a painter—her forms swirling and organic—worked on the feminist-collective magazine Heresies and co-founded the public art project Dyke Action Machine (DAM!). Pepe, who dabbled in lesbian separatism, makes immersive sculptures out of found mass-produced materials such as rubber bands and shoelaces. Displayed together here, their work is complementary in a way that makes it hard to imagine their practices as ever having been separate, and not only because the sweeping arcs in Moyer’s gestural paintings are echoed in the crescents of Pepe’s crocheted webs. Both artists work in clear resistance to the same masculinist art historical dismissal that holds that craft is low brow, women’s work. The two artists are not worried, however, about the slippery slope of subsuming their individualism too deeply into the couple form. Collaboration and relationality are intrinsic to their work.
The heart of the show is the titular site-specific installation, a Quaker-esque circle of handmade stools, throw rugs, and pillows underneath a hand-sewn canopy. Parlor for the People is a place for the “community to gather,” the artists claim. Pepe and Moyer hope that, following a year and a half of not being able to gather indoors, visitors will activate the artwork by doing just that: coming together. Here, the artists promise, the space between strangers is charged with potential. —Sophia Larigakis
Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe, Carries a Soft Stick, 2016. Oil paint, wood, cut plastic bag, and glitter on canvas, 47 × 44 × 3 inches. Image courtesy Alan Weiner. © Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe.