Barcelona Fan

Miriam Schapiro American, born Canada

Not on view

Co-founder of the Feminist Art Program at California Institute for the Arts in 1971, Miriam Schapiro is indelibly associated with the Pattern and Decoration movement, which emerged in the early 1970s and peaked in the mid-1980s. Artists such as Schapiro embraced forms, materials, and techniques explicitly associated with feminine labor, the domestic sphere, craft-based production, and the decorative arts (Persian, Japanese, and Mayan included), whose compositions they adapted. In so doing, Schapiro and others expanded the boundaries of modernist abstraction and tested the rigid hierarchy dividing high and low as well as the fine and applied arts. For her part, Schapiro sought early on to create "art out of women’s lives" and to validate "the traditional activities of women," a gesture equal parts aesthetic and political.[1]

In the early 1970s, Schapiro started to experiment with fabric, lace, and handkerchiefs, combining them with hand-painted patterns derived from calico and wallpaper to create what she would eventually call "femmage," a variation on the practice of collage. Barcelona Fan, made four years after she moved to New York from California, around the same time that she helped establish a group called Pattern and Decorative Artists, exemplifies this moment in Schapiro’s career. Of Barcelona Fan, which borrows the shape of a traditional handheld, winged fan, a motif she first began to employ in 1978, Schapiro once said, it "reveal[s] the unfolding of woman’s consciousness," serving as "an appropriate symbol for all my feeling and experiences about the women’s movement. That’s a very ambitious notion: to choose something considered trivial in the culture and make it into a heroic form."[2]

The handheld fan was (and continues to be) used by cultures around the globe, from antiquity to the present. The modern history of the fan is generally understood to begin in China and Japan, from which it found its way via trade to Europe in the seventeenth century, becoming an integral accoutrement of high-ranking, upper-class women. As in the ancient past, fans served a range of practical, ceremonial, and symbolic functions, communicating the user’s status, for instance. By the nineteenth century, the fan became perceived as a decorative trifle, an attribute of feminine beauty, passivity, and coquettishness. By monumentalizing the fan, Schapiro reclaims a debased object for feminism, deliberately imparting to it an assertive strength and authority. (Her choice of the title "Barcelona Fan," moreover, might reference the fan’s association with flamenco dance in Spain.) A classic femmage, Barcelona Fan is comprised of areas of paint as well as pieces of cut fabric and lace in bold, contrasting colors. The latter elements, in which floral motifs dominate, are layered one upon the other to create a patchwork design with a bold, syncopated rhythm. Controlled by the symmetrical shape of a fan, the composition is both systematic and dynamic, divided into twenty-four radial segments, which are divided further into five concentric semicircles.

[1] Quoted in Tracey R. Bashkoff, Miriam Schapiro: The Politics of the Decorative (East Hampton, NY: Guild Hall Museum, 1992), n.p.

[2] Ibid.

Barcelona Fan, Miriam Schapiro (American (born Canada), Toronto 1923–2015 Hampton Bays, New York), Fabric and acrylic on canvas

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.