Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site
October 20, 2015
Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site is pleased to present Angela Fraleigh: Lost in the Light October 10, 2015-May 25, 2016. Fraleigh's complex paintings examine and explore power dynamics. Her work often tugs at the shadows of art history in search of invisible histories and dormant narratives that might restore agency to the women that inhabit them. For the first time in the history of the museum, contemporary paintings will be exhibited in the historic rooms of the Vanderbilt Mansion.
Much about the inhabitants of the Vanderbilt Mansion remains a mystery, but none more so than the women of the post-industrial era. We can find records of men's lives and men's matters; men mattered. But even the women of the upper class were regarded with little account unless tabloid worthy. There are few accounts of Louise Vanderbilt and the upper-class guests that frequented the residence, as well as the servants, maids and cooks that scuttled in the shadows, behind closed doors. Much about the women who lived on the estate during this period remains elusive, as do the women in Fraleigh's paintings.
These portraits represent female heads seen from behind, the features of their faces removed from view. The compositions are pared back to four elements: the limited background and the subject's hair, skin and clothing. We cannot tell whether the subject is a maid or a member of the wealthy class. The paintings are without overt symbolic detail - no clear reference is made to class or interests. There is a democratizing quality to this approach that makes all women equal regardless of their station in life, highlighting the lack of autonomy women had during this period. Whether the issues of equal wages for equal work, property and custody rights, or the right to vote, women were second-class citizens regardless of their economic standing. The portraits are mute, impenetrable and isolated, arousing longing for the stories that peopled this home, but offering only a whisper.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a unique book collaboration between Fraleigh and writer Jen Werner. This book is an attempt to give voice to the women that lived, visited, and worked in the Vanderbilt's Hyde Park country house. Based on oral histories, primary and secondary historical documents, and the muse of invention, this book is a tribute to the physical and psychological aspects of female life during the Gilded Age. Included in the book are partially invented stories meant to invoke not only the spirit of Louise Vanderbilt and the women who surrounded her, but also the necessary role that women played in the grand American history.