Nancy Macko “The Fragile Bee”

On view through August 13, 2022

As a social practice, Macko’s work addresses life’s fundamental questions. She photographs the process of the life and death of plants that serves as a metaphor of our brief existence. As an artist working with many media, including photography, printmaking, and installation, Macko wishes to present the natural world’s often hidden beauty in the photos she takes. In recording the life cycle of bee-attracting flora, she hopes to shed light on our own brief lifespan. 

In the exhibition The Fragile Bee, Macko looks closely at the world of bees, not only to examine their biology and somatic features, but also to study their habitat and highly organized society. The group of works consists of four interconnected multi-disciplinary and multi-media installations. This compelling work is not only meant to inform the public about the plight of the bees but also to raise awareness of our interdependent relationship with them. 

Exhibition organized through Katharine T. Carter & Associates.

The Kathy Chan Gallery is open Monday through Thursday and Saturday from 10 am – 1 pm and 2-5 pm, and Friday from 10 am to 1 pm. Admission is FREE thanks to the support of the City of Gadsden, Alabama State Council on the Arts, and Exchange Bank.

Nancy Macko is an artist who takes photographs of flowers and makes prints and installations, usually related to nature; almost all of the work intimates her strong interest in the world of ecology, in particular the world of bees; and the strong desire to promote equality for women, with a special emphasis on female artists. Born in New York, and educated at the University of Wisconsin and Berkeley, Macko has spent most of her adult life in Southern California, where she is professor of art at Scripps College. She is an artist dedicated to revealing the subtle intimacies of nature; using a macro lens to capture the details of flowers. In doing so, Macko also establishes a striking metaphor for the erotic life of women, a subject that often holds sway in her art. In conjunction with her artistic activities, Macko has been a strong advocate of feminist causes. Without transparently communicating her political concerns, the artwork can be read in light of her social passion: both her flower imagery and her interest in the lives of the bees presents, by implication, an alternative to the ongoing crisis in ecology and the expanding concerns of feminist art. Thus, Macko is an artist for whom aesthetics and justice are intertwined; her view in art, though, is implicit rather than overtly expressed.

The artist began taking close-ups of bee-attracting flora in her backyard, and is now documenting other species in different regions of the US: most recently the Rocky Mountains and the northeast. The delicacy of her images is undeniable; the colors and crevices of the blooms are extremely seductive, clearly making reference to the female sex yet in conjunction with the role of the bee as pollinator and facilitator of sexual pleasures. The power of this work does not stem only from its erotic implications; actually, the imagery extends to nature’s own erotic possibilities, which are certainly true as biological fact. Color is also extremely important to Macko’s work: images of desert marigolds and California poppies explode with an intensity of yellow and orange, and some of the more recent images depict the bees themselves.

In 2015, Macko presented the exhibition The Fragile Bee, which included the installation Honey Teachings: In the Mother Tongue of the Bees. This wall installation is composed of 104 hexagonal wooden panels displaying bee imagery. Sometimes statements about the bees are included: “Worker bees are born to serve the greater good.” Installed on the wall, the individual panels look very much like a hive, completing the implicit metaphor of the project. Macko is truly a utopian artist who borrows from nature to deliver sharp points about the possibility of a better human society. In this way, she belongs to the highly American practice of joining art to politics, both private and public. Her botanicals command respect as remarkable visions of the hidden intimacies of nature, while her bee imagery is both beautiful and indicative of a larger purpose: the transformation, through art, of a patriarchal society. This topic is to some extent a dream originating from the imagination yet it is also a template for a just society.

Macko’s work extends to fine art prints and her photographs are clearly related to the 2007 suite of etchings entitled In the Garden of the Bee Priestess. These prints combine abstract, decorative imagery with specific depictions of bees and flora, thus bridging some of the interests of 1980s Pattern art with a more contemporary view. In Nirvana for the Future: The Divine Reading Lesson Series (2011), Macko employs hive imagery and combines it with a regularly appearing image, an arrow-like shape which turns out to be a plumb bob but stands in for an ancient matriarchal goddess— another strong interest of the artist is matriarchal societies. These prints are highly skilled, eclectic gatherings of images taken across time, across cultures, across geographies. Their collective power is not only moving, but also political; Macko seems determined to upend the conventional account of historical culture and read it in light of feminist insurgency.

Since the early nineties, Nancy Macko has drawn upon images of the honeybee society to explore the relationships between art, science, technology and ancient matriarchal cultures. Today, she combines elements of printmaking, digital media, photography, video, and installation to create a unique visual language. This combination of media allows her to examine and respond to issues related to eco-feminism, nature, and the importance of ancient matriarchal cultures, as well as to explore her interests in the relationships between art and technology, science, evolution and ecology.

For the last ten years, Macko has been photographing flora using a macro lens in order to reveal the less apparent, less obvious features concealed within these beautiful specimens. She captures them from bud to bloom to seed — all manifestations of the life cycle. Her current research includes documenting native bee-attracting flora, beginning in Southern California and branching out to the northeast and the high elevation area of the Rocky Mountains.

Her previous explorations addressed issues of memory loss, dementia and cognitive decline – changes she witnessed as they affected her aging mother’s mental health. Uniting a life-long commitment to incorporate a spiritual respect for the world with her subject matter, Macko integrated aspects of aging and decline with notions of the spirit of life regardless of what point on the continuum we find ourselves. Her interest in ‘end of life’ has clearly informed her photography.

Macko’s mid-career survey show, Hive Universe: Nancy Macko, 1994-2006, was exhibited at the Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles in 2006-7 and was accompanied by a full color catalog. This was the most substantive and comprehensive examination of her work to date and included over 60 pieces spanning various media—traditional and digital prints, video, and mixed media works on wood panels. As part of the national Feminist Art Project, Hive Universe was the forerunning exhibition in Los Angeles to recognize the achievements of the feminist art movement. Her work has been reviewed and written about in Artweek, ArtScene, Artillery, Coast, exposure, Daily Serving, LA Weekly and the LA Times among other publications and journals.

Originally from New York, Macko received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and her graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley with a concentration in painting and printmaking. She has been a practicing artist since the early 1980s, producing over thirty solo exhibitions and participating in over 150 exhibitions both nationally and abroad. She has received more than 30 research and achievement awards for her art. She has traveled extensively and has had highly productive artist residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada and the Musee d’Pont Aven in Brittany, France.

Her work is in numerous public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, New York Public Library, North Dakota Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum and the RISD Museum of Art.

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Exhibition organized through Katharine T. Carter & Associates


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