A while ago I thought it might be interesting to try and figure out which artist a contemporary art maker could name as an influence that would discredit them the quickest. A friend answered Judy Chicago, and no sooner were those words uttered, than the problem was solved. There are probably those who believe that this reaction is a result of deeply engrained social values that privilege men and evoke hatred and fear of women in society as a whole — certainly there are cases where this is true — but let's face it, Judy Chicago, while historically important, is not at all relevant to art making today.
With this information in mind, it is not surprising that when art professionals hear that the Brooklyn Museum is installing Chicago's The Dinner Party, nobody is going to take issue with it, but by the same token, if the first response of the Museum when asked what they are doing to promote feminism, is revisiting Judy Chicago, the institution should expect more than a few raised eyebrows. Not that any were openly raised at Forgetting the F Word, a discussion panel I was part of, hosted by Renée Vara a week and a half ago. The idea that the conversation about feminism is important seems to inspire all sorts of qualifications before stating anything critical about the movement. Of course, so does being part of a panel you plan to critique.
Let me begin then by acknowledging that panel discussions about feminism are always important, but also, that the conversation I was part of, by and large, went no where. There are a couple of reasons for this, the largest being that it is a mistake to spend large amounts of time discussing statistical data we are all aware of. It's boring for the audience, and one member (Trong Nguyen), noticeably irritated by the conversation, ended up telling the panel members that the numbers cited of male and female representation in commercial galleries were more or less old news. He offered the suggestion of researching gender statistics on the people continue to make work after school, or those who come to art from different fields, which was a good one, but given the “you suck” tone of his voice it's not much of a surprise the panelists didn't respond well. He also put forth the thought that the museum's first feminist exhibition effort could be a show of all male feminists, at which point Brooklyn Museum curator Maura Reilly declared that she wasn't going to dignify the comment with a response.
Granted, Nguyen's idea is limited due to its “one trick ponyness”, but I have to say I was surprised by Reilly's response because it ignored the more important issue brought up by Nguyen, which is that radicalism no longer exists in the art world. Had it not been the end of the evening, we could have spent the next two hours discussing this idea, and generated some ideas with practical application. It really seems to me that the starting point of this discussion should be examining how to make feminism work in a system that doesn't have enough flexibility to allow for its existence.
Look forward to tomorrows post, Forgetting the F Word Part Two of Two: Covert Feminism, Cyber Feminism, and the Powers of Social Networking.