The lofty post-and-beam exhibition space at the Darien Historical Society is perfectly suited for showcasing 23 of Margaret Brassler Kane’s modernist sculptures whose themes are as important and timeless as when she created them decades ago. The exhibition, “About Time: The Masterwork of Margaret Brassler Kane (1909-2006),” is on view through Feb. 3, looks at the work and struggles of this sculptor who was ahead of her time and resisted the norms of the day as a working mother and artist.
A lecture series accompanies the exhibition as art historians explore subjects that Brassler Kane focused on during her lifetime. A Smithsonian archival project of her papers and work records is also now underway. The exhibit’s presentation here is fitting as Brassler Kane had a home in Cos Cob and later in Darien.
The exhibition’s title carries several meanings. Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, the exhibition’s guest curator who also produced the artist’s first retrospective at the Greenwich Historical Society in 2008, said Brassler Kane was well-known in the 1930s and ’40s when she emerged on the art scene and dedicated her life to making art from her 20s into her 90s. “She passionately pursued her artistic vision and gave expression to monumental events of her generation,” she said. Much of Brassler Kane’s work deals with timeless events that still resonate today — the injustices caused by capitalism, the effects of wars and the plight of refugees, as well as the progression of time.
An exhibition highlight is a group of five six-by-six-foot panels that comprise “Symbols of Changing Man,” 1937-39, carved in relief that depict key moments in time and man’s evolution, starting with the beginning of life on earth. The oldest and most well-known panel shows modern people and explores themes of work, science, religion and war. This exhibition marks the first time all five panels have been shown together. “They deal with time, present day movements, space and the history of man,” Motes Bennewitz said. “It’s just this incredible series and she envisioned it as a series.”
“It’s an absolute honor to have the opportunity to exhibit the works of such a talented and prolific artist, and especially to have her masterpiece on display for the first time,” said Margaret McIntire, executive director of the society.
“About Time” also refers to the artist getting long overdue recognition for her groundbreaking work. While famous in her day, the artist and her work later fell into obscurity. “The goal [of this exhibition] is to bring attention to Margaret Brassler Kane, give her the recognition that she deserves and really allow people to be enlightened and create a sense of discovery about what her artistic vision was,” Motes Bennewitz said. “And in the setting of a history museum, it is to show how she connected with the momentous events of her time and how they relate to present day.”
The dialogue the artist had with her subject matter will be further explored in a companion exhibition organized by local artist Lisa Thoren, who along with seven other artists, all women, are producing response pieces to works in “About Time.” The response exhibition opens Nov. 29. “This subject matter she is talking about is so relevant,” Thoren said, recalling her reaction when she first saw Kane’s art. “It’s exactly what we were talking about during the Me Too movement,” she said, saying she has long wanted to create art about how far women have come in American history.
Another standout in the exhibit is a bronze casting of Brassler Kane’s “Harlem Dancers,” 1936, measuring 30 by 14 by 12 inches. The original marble sculpture of the same size stands at the entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and it depicts an African American couple entwined together, moving across a dance floor. Brassler Kane’s “Blackout (Flight)” is a favorite work of the curator. “It shows an immigrant family fleeing with their bare possessions. It’s no different from images you see today of people, fleeing from war,” Motes Bennewitz said. “Seeing it, it’s just a gorgeous work. And it just resonates, that’s the beauty of her work.”
The Darien Historical Society is at 45 Old Kings Highway North. For more information, visit darienhistorical.org or call 203-655-9233.