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February 18 – May 28, 2023


A History of Women in Design

Organized in collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design, this major exhibition celebrates the instrumental role women have played in the world of design through a rich corpus of art works and objects dating from the mid-19th century onwards. In addition, it examines the reasons why women are underrepresented in the history of this discipline and encourages an expanded understanding of what constitutes design.

A sweeping story of perseverance, creativity and triumph.

Parall(elles) highlights the breadth and complexity of design pieces made by American and Canadian women by situating these works against the backdrop of social, political and personal issues that shaped their experiences across time. The exhibition also considers the intersectionality of gender, identity, race, culture and class to provide a deeper understanding of the varied roles and achievements of women. It traces the development of educational and professional opportunities available to women, the evolution of the status of crafts and the impact that women’s rights movements had on their practices. Finally, beyond revisiting traditional definitions of “design,” Parall(elles) opens a window onto a world of magnificent beauty and skill.


A fresh take on North American design of the past 150 years

Bringing together close to 250 art works and objects, the exhibition adopts a broad definition of design that extends from artisanal craftwork to industrial design, including ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, furniture, consumer products, graphics, fashion and interior design.
One third of the objects presented come from the MMFA’s design collection, among the largest of its kind in North America. Parall(elles) also boasts numerous works on loan from the Stewart Program for Modern Design, private collections, and some thirty Canadian and American museum institutions.


Among the exhibited creations, visitors will discover remarkable vases from the Arts and Crafts movement; a Tiffany lamp – a veritable jewel of design from the early 20th century inspired by a drawing by Clara Driscoll; a tubular chrome-plated steel desk by Jeannette Meunier Biéler and a rare example of the influence of Bauhaus on Canadian design; the sculptural Museum coffee service by American-Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel; and an assortment of jewellery and evening gowns that attest to the break-through of women into the fashion and jewellery-making industries during the interwar period.

The public will also have a chance to admire the unique prototype Fancy Free Corvette, designed by Ruth Glennie for General Motors in 1958, as well as many modern objects and furniture items, including original editions of such pieces as the iconic LCW chair by Charles and Ray Eames and the Spindle wall clock by Lucia DeRespinis.


Ruth Glennie (1929-2018) for General Motors, Fancy Free Corvette, 1958. Collection of Jürgen Reimer, Germany. Photo General Motors LLC

The influence of the female experience and the fluidity of movement between the realms of art, craft and design, which manifested in creations by women as of the 1970s, are notably reflected in works by Judy Chicago, Sonya Clark, Madeleine Dansereau, Mary Lee Hu, Carolyn L. Mazloomi, Faith Ringgold, Joyce J. Scott and Cindy Sherman, to name a few.

Parall(elles) also highlights innovations in local, present-day design through works by Quebec and Canadian artists and designers such as Lani Adeoye, Eliza Au, Marie-Hélène Beaulieu, Chifen Cheng, Maryse Chartrand, Ying Gao, Zoë Mowat, Anastasia Radevich, Shay Salehi and Natasha Thorpe.


Furthermore, many of the exhibited contemporary creations speak to the shift towards sustainable development, slow design, additive manufacturing, new technologies – from robotics to 3D printing – and object-making as a form of high art that have characterized design production in the past twenty years.


A monumental work by Molly Hatch

The MMFA has commissioned Molly Hatch to create a massive mosaic composed of 198 hand-painted terracotta plates that will dominate the grand staircase of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, where the exhibition will be presented. To execute this work, the American potter is drawing inspiration from an exquisite pseudo-cloisonné enamel vase produced by the Minton Manufactory based on a drawing by Christopher Dresser, which was recently acquired by the Museum.


Associated programming

The Museum is developing a number of related creative workshops for adults and families that delve into different design techniques, as well as lectures showcasing the work of women creators and impressing the need to make this discipline even more inclusive. For its part, Bourgie Hall will be presenting a three-part concert series that shines the spotlight on female composers and musicians.

Credits and curatorial team

An exhibition organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design. It is curated by Jennifer Laurent, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, MMFA.

Presented by

Major Benefactor

Official Sponsor


With support from

Media partners

Public partners

Robert Venturi (1925-2018) and Denise Scott Brown (born in 1931), Queen Anne chair, “Grandmother’s Tablecloth” pattern, 1984 (example of 1985), produced by Knoll International, New York. MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection, gift of Knoll International, Inc. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Roseline Delisle (1952-2003), covered jars: Quadruple 9.95, 1995; Quadruple 7 Paratonnerre, 1989; Triptych 12.95, 1995. MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. Photo Annie Fafard

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), designed by Clara Driscoll (1861-1944), Peacock table lamp, about 1905, made by Tiffany Studios, New York. MMFA, purchase, Claire Gohier Fund, gift of Gérald-Henri Vuillien and Christophe Pilaire in honour of being granted Canadian permanent resident status, Ruth Jackson Bequest, gift of the International Friends of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and gift of Joan and Martin Goldfarb. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Jeannette Meunier Biéler (1900-1990), desk, about 1932-1933. MMFA, gift of Philippe Baylaucq and Sylvie Biéler Baylaucq. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Eva Zeisel (1906-2011), Museum service, about 1942-1946, produced by Shenango Pottery, New Castle, Pennsylvania, for Castleton China, New York. MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection, gift of Castleton China Inc. and gift of the American Friends of Canada through the generosity of Hans Zeisel. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988), LCW (Low-Chair-Wood) chair, 1945-1946 (example about 1946), produced by Herman Miller Furniture, Zeeland, Michigan. MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Lucia DeRespinis (born in 1927) for George Nelson Associates, Spindle clock, Model 2239, 1957-1958, produced by the Howard Miller Clock Company, Zeeland, Michigan. The Stewart Program for Modern Design, Montreal, purchase from the bequest of Luc d’Iberville Moreau, by exchange. Photo Denis Farley

Ruth Glennie (1929-2018) for General Motors, Fancy Free Corvette, 1958. Collection of Jürgen Reimer, Germany. Photo General Motors LLC

Mary Lee Hu (born in 1943), Choker # 43, 1978. Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, Bloomington, Museum Purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Photo Kevin Montague, Eskenazi Museum of Art

Faith Ringgold (born in 1930), Tar Beach 2 quilt, 1990. Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with funds contributed by W. B. Dixon Stroud, 1992. © Faith Ringgold / SOCAN (2022). Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cindy Sherman (born in 1954), Madame de Pompadour (née Poisson) soup tureen and stand, 1990, made by the Ancienne Manufacture Royale de Limoges for Artes Magnus, New York. MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Lani Adeoye (born in 1989), Lilo chair, 2015. MMFA, in process of acquisition. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Eliza Au (born in 1982), Slot Bowl, 2019. The Stewart Program for Design, Montreal, gift of Dr. Michael Sze, by exchange. Photo Ji Xiao Tong

Zoë Mowat (born in 1985), Quarry Bowls, 2019, made by Ricardo Eira for Origin, Várzea, Portugal. The Stewart Program for Modern Design, Montreal, purchase from the bequest of Luc d’Iberville Moreau, by exchange. Photo Denis Farley

Theanne N. Schiros (born in 1975) and Public School, New York, in scientific partnership with Helen Lu and Romare Antrobus, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, microbial bioleather sneakers, 2020, built by Anne Marika Verploegh Chassé. Collection of the designer. Photo Jon Brown

Jay Sae Jung Oh (born in 1982), Savage chair, 2011. Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Museum Committee 2011 Graduate Degree Exhibition Purchase Award through the Imerman Acquisition Fund. Photo R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer

Minton Manufactory (founded in 1793), design by Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), vase, 1880, porcelain, enamel, gilt and painted decoration, 26.5 x 21 x 11 cm. MMFA, gift of the Honourable Serge Joyal, P.C., O.C., O.Q. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

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