Multi-disciplinary artist and sculptor E.V. Day has thought a lot about breaking barriers. She herself has broken the proverbial glass ceiling for women, becoming a successful female artist in an industry that has traditionally undervalued women’s contributions. She also has tackled the subject head on in her recent installation, aptly titled, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling.”
“Breaking the Glass Ceiling” is on display at the Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA) in New York City through October 27, 2019. The gravity-defying exhibition has viewers gazing skyward to see a matrix of monofilament —a metaphor of the firm but elusive “glass ceiling,” CMA says references “cosmic aspirations—the strong desire to achieve something that might feel just outside of one’s reach.” Photo images of shattered laptop screens, chunks of broken glass resembling melting glaciers, and mirror fragments surround the viewer. Some of the visual abstractions resemble outer space or warp speed.
Day herself often wondered if making a living as a female artist was out of reach, but she persisted, despite the gender biases that often thwart women’s success—from fellowships and grants siphoned to mostly male artists to galleries and museums unwilling to showcase their work to collectors unwilling to buy it.
“This is the first generation ever where a woman can make a living as an artist and be a mother,” Day says, who earned her MFA in sculpture from Yale University. “Making a living as a female artist really never happened at this scale before and it’s very exciting.” Day, who creates her art from her studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., has received numerous awards and for her work, which also appears in permanent collections in some of the world’s leading art venues, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Saatchi Gallery in London.
Day’s art often focuses on themes of sexuality and humor, and she uses suspension techniques, employing fishing lines, turnbuckles, and other types of hardware to do so. Fueled by the environment around her, Day’s work often manipulates popular culture in order to highlight contradictions of gender roles and social stereotypes.
In 1999, Day made a bang in the art world with her “Exploding Couture” installation series—dresses captured in mid-explosion, using a system composed of monofilament suspended between the ceiling and floor. “The first attention I received for my work was like being shot out of a cannon in front of the art world,” she says. “When I had the means to express myself in a way that I imagined would be unfashionable, that’s when my career took off. An inspiration doesn’t always come from happiness; it comes from some kind of irritation.”
One of the works from this series, “Bombshell,” was an eight-foot-high reproduction of Marilyn Monroe’s infamous white dress worn in the 1954 classic film, “The Seven Year Itch.” The dress was deconstructed into hundreds of pieces as if it were blown apart by an internal explosion—representing an expression of liberation and transformation central to Day’s work. “I wanted to free the stereotype of female pleasure that requires a male’s gaze. I wanted to rupture this cliché and show the process of transformation.” “Bombshell” was exhibited in the 2000 Whitney Biennial and is part of their permanent collection.
Day created other provocative works, including “G-Force” (2001, Whitney Museum of Art), a 40-foot-high installation of 200 jet fighters fashioned from G-Strings (yes, women’s underwear) soaring in combat formation; “Divas Ascending” 2009, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center) suspending costumes of the tragic female characters in the air; and “Twisted” (2015, Pen & Brush) contorting sensual shapes of human forms.
In 2010, Day was a resident at the Monet Foundation in Giverny, France, where she lived in Claude Monet’s garden, known for its immortalized water lilies. Inspired by the garden, she transported this iconic flower and created “The Pollinator (Water Lily)” in 2012. This was Day’s first-ever outdoor sculpture, featured in the Beautiful Strangers exhibition at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Mass., in 2018.
Recently, Day was awarded the prestigious Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome for Visual Arts, where she spent a year living and working in the Eternal City. “Being at the Academy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being steeped among the minds of historians, and archaeologists,” “At every conversation and at every mealtime, I had to bring my ‘A’ game.” While there, Day explored sculpture within architecture, and in particular the works of Italian sculptor and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
With her most recent exhibition, Day is turning her attention to the glass ceiling she herself has surpassed, but which still exists for many others. In its press release describing “Breaking the Glass Ceiling,” CMA said, “Day sees the glass ceiling as a symptom of a broader problem—the collective subjugation of nature and our planet. With her installation, Day creates a conversation about the invisible barriers that prevent us from breaking through the glass ceiling and onward toward the advancement of culture.”