“Looks like it’s Whitney Biennial Day”, I decreed this morning, though I think I’ll be revising that to Schizophrenia Day due to a few scheduling mishaps. As such, my Whitney Biennial review will come out next week at the L Magazine, and today, you read about WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. This will be followed by what couldn’t be a more unexpectedly themed post if I tried. That surprise later today.
About a year and a half ago I named Judy Chicago as an artist sure to discredit anyone with the bad judgment to cite her as an influence. She's still the only person I can definitively place on that list. On some level, the reasons to dislike her are obvious: her paintings borrow too much from Georgia O'Keeffe but are less skilled, her installations are typically simple in concept and boring in person, and worst of all, her work drips of hippy free-spirited goodness, a quality sure to turn off most of today's proudly cynical artists.
With that said, even if there is no less fashionable combination than feminism and the dirty hippy — and certainly most of her work in the 80s and 90s matches this criteria — it's hard to understand why this particular artist's projects have come to be so universally disliked. And one of the reasons the traveling exhibition WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution has seen so much positive press is that curator Connie Butler has included work likely to inspire such questions. The exhibition, now at P.S.1, includes Judy Chicago's Through the Flower, a reasonably well executed painting of a blossom, which certainly provides a more positive entry point to her art than anything she made after 1980.
Mind you, the later work was never likely to make it into the show anyway; the exhibition focuses on art made by 120 artists between 1965 and 1980. Organized thematically, WACK! includes categories such as “Knowledge as Power”, “Body as Medium”, “Auto-photography” and more [Editors note: I didn’t find it mattered too much since there was a real sense of flow to the exhibition, but after viewing the exhibition three times, that these themes may have been based on the organization of the catalog and lost somewhere along the way since they were largely unapparent to me – why were there no signs in the exhibition indicating the rationale for the groupings?]. As a whole, the exhibition means to show the diversity of practice within the community of artists during that time who identified as feminists. The work of Joan Semmel, for example, speaks to this range, an artist retroactively included in the feminist canon for her photograph-based paintings. Picturing only what she could see of her and her lover's body, though the artist's outspoken feminist ideologies probably provide a clearer picture of her politics than the painting Intimacy/Autonomy. There is an eerie silence to the indisputably strong piece, but it isn't among the bolder statements women made during that era.
To read the full piece click here.