Brush Up on Your Feminist Art History With These Seminal Exhibits
When Georgia O’Keeffe was called “the best woman painter” by men, she famously responded with, “I think I’m one of the greatest painters.” O’Keeffe, in other words, had no time for condescending patriarchal crap—she was one of the greatest painters, male or female, and she wasn’t afraid to let everyone know it.
Few would argue with her greatness—I mean, she did pave the way for American Modernism and changed the way we look at landscapes, cityscapes, and spiritualism forever—but for those in the art industry, the casual sexism O’Keeffe faced isn’t really a surprise. Art, like pretty much everything except for menstruating and giving birth, is a boy’s club.
Luckily, things are getting better: starting this summer and lasting until October 30th, O’Keeffe’s work is being featured at London’s Tate Modern in a mega-exhibition dedicated solely to her. And this is in addition to the three solo female exhibitions the MoMA held over the course of last year, as well as their Modern Women’s fund. What’s more, the number of female artists being shown at the Whitney and the Guggenheim is, thank fuck, no longer zero. And there’s certainly no shortage of female shows to check out on either coast, from the Hammer Museum’s new Bureau of Feminism in L.A. to these five ladies repping the art scene in New York.
To paraphrase Cassie, [we’ve] got a long way to go. But the movement is growing, and hopefully one day all of this inequitable bullshit will disappear. Until then, brush up on your art history with these five exhibitions that have been integral to the progress of female artists everywhere.
An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture
Don’t you just love it when a man says he’ll produce an “an international cross-section of what is going on [in the art world],” and then proceeds to include only 13 women out of a total of 165 artists? Yep, that’s less than ten percent. That’s exactly what MoMA curator Kynaston McShine did with this show in 1984. We have to thank him though, because without his sexist show and remarks—e.g. “Any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink his career,”—there wouldn’t be the Guerilla Girls and their witty posters that weren’t afraid to call out the major institutions that showed gender bias. So, like, all of them.
Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0
Where: Morra Arte Studio, Naples
While Abramović, like O’Keeffe, might not be a huge fan of feminist labels—she was once quoted as saying, “An artist has no gender; all that matters is whether they make good or bad art”—her performance art piece Rhythm 0 still made a powerful statement about the objectification of female bodies. As the “object,” Marina gave people the power to do whatever they wanted to her—and they took advantage of it. Using tools she had placed nearby, such as scissors, a knife, and a loaded gun, people cut her clothes, sexually abused her, and held her at gunpoint. Sure, she was in control of the situation and had literally devised it all herself, but given how violent the viewers became—and particularly, the male viewers—it made for a pretty terrifying glimpse into male aggression and how women are perceived in society.
Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party
Where: Brooklyn Museum
The ultimate answer to all the “if you could choose anyone to have a dinner party with, who would it be?” question, this installation pays homage to so many lady bosses throughout history, from Celtic goddesses to Native American explorers and medieval queens who slayed both metaphorically and literally (we’re not going to deny those were tough times). OG feminist artist Judy Chicago created it in the 1970s—it took her four years to complete—as a way of rewriting history and saying, sure, there were a lot of great dudes, but what about the women? She also took the piss out of the boy’s club that the art world has become by elevating traditional “women’s work”—textiles and ceramics, which she used to recreate the piece’s dinner party setting—to the realm of high art. And whether you think it’s the greatest thing since Sushi Cats or are a little unsettled by the inordinate number of vaginas (there’s a stylized vulva on each plate), you can still check it out firsthand at the Brooklyn Museum.
Where: Centre Pompidou, Paris
When Europe’s largest modern museum says it’s going to store its permanent collection and replace it with all-female art, you’re going to sit up and notice. And that’s exactly what the Pompidou did with Elles: Pompidou. This was a BFD, firstly because it meant the museum had to really think about its purchases and, like, actually buy art made by women, and also because it proved to the male powers that be that, uh, yes, the public did want to see this: attendance to the museum’s permanent art collection increased by 25 percent, and the show was so popular, it even extended its run. Turns out that people enjoy seeing a woman’s name on the artist’s plaque. Groundbreaking, we know.
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
Where: MOCA, L.A., and PS1, Queens
Nobody needs the establishment’s permission to acknowledge that they’ve “made it”—but it is a pretty foolproof method of shutting down the haters. If anyone had any doubts about the influence of feminist art, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, they need only look at this exhibition curated by Connie Butler (who’s actually now at the Hammer Museum and is behind the Bureau of Feminism mentioned above). This was the first exhibition to really look at the history, development, and influence of feminist art, and was widely praised for not only being multi-disciplinary, but also for making sure lesbian artists and non-American voices had a space at the table. In fact, as art critic Holland Cotter (a dude, FYI) wrote, “If you’ve held your breath for 40 years waiting for something to happen, your feelings can’t help being mixed when it finally does: ‘At least!’ but also ‘Not enough.’”
Images via Artnews, Huffington Post, YouTube, Vimeo, Judy Chicago, Saatchi Gallery, and The New York Times.
Stay tuned to Milk for more feminist icons.