Definition of feminism
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
What the Tate Says
In 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin published a groundbreaking essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? In it she investigated the social and economic factors that had prevented talented women from achieving the same status as their male counterparts.
By the 1980s art historians such as Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker were going further, to examine the language of art history with its gender-loaded terms such as ‘old master’ and ‘masterpiece’. They questioned the central place of the female nude in the western canon, asking why men and women are represented so differently. In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing the Marxist critic John Berger had concluded ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’. In other words Western art replicates the unequal relationships already embedded in society.
In what is sometimes known as First Wave feminist art, women artists revelled in feminine experience, exploring vaginal imagery and menstrual blood, posing naked as goddess figures and defiantly using media such as embroidery that had been considered ‘women’s work’. One of the great iconic works of this phase of feminist art is Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, 1974–9.
Later feminist artists rejected this approach and attempted to reveal the origins of our ideas of femininity and womanhood. They pursued the idea of femininity as a masquerade – a set of poses adopted by women to conform to social expectations of womanhood.
The feminist art movement refers to the efforts and accomplishments of feminists internationally to produce art that reflects women’s lives and experiences, as well as to change the foundation for the production and reception of contemporary art. It also sought to bring more visibility to women within art history and art practice. Corresponding with general developments within feminism, and often including such self-organizing tactics as the consciousness-raising group, the movement began in the 1960s and flourished throughout the 1970s as an outgrowth of the so-called second wave of feminism. It has been called “the most influential international movement of any during the postwar period.”
In her 1998 book “Feminist Thought,” Rosemarie Tong rephrases in postmodern terms Simone de Beauvoir’s essential question of feminist theory, “Why is woman the other?”
“ Postmodern feminists take de Beauvoir’s understanding of otherness and turn it on its head. Woman is still the other, but rather than interpreting this condition as something to be transcended, postmodern feminists proclaim its advantages. The conition of otherness enables women to stand back and criticize the norms, values, and practices that the dominant patriarchal culture seeks to impose on everyone, including those who live on its periphery…Thus, otherness, for all of its associations with oppression and inferiority, is much more than an oppressed, inferior condition. It is also a way of being, thinking, and speaking that allows for openness, plurality, diversity, and difference…It is enormously appealing to be an outsider – to be uncorrupted by the system, to see and feel what other people do not see and feel, to be free of tight constraints and unnecessary restrictions. But it is equally appealing to be an insider – to be a valued member of the team, to share a common vision, to have, as Aristotle said, ‘partners in virtue and friends in action.’”
From Seminar with Helen Ann Jones
The Feminist art movement emerged in the late 1960s amidst the fervor of anti-war demonstrations as well as civil and queer rights movements. Hearkening back to the utopian ideals of early twentieth-century modernist movements, Feminist artists sought to change the world around them through their art, focusing on intervening in the established art world, the art historical canon, as well as everyday social interactions. As artist Suzanne Lacy declared, the goal of Feminist art was to “influence cultural attitudes and transform stereotypes.” There is no singular medium or style that unites Feminist artists, as they often combined aspects from various movements and media, including Conceptual art, Body art, and Video art into works that presented a message about women’s experience and the need for gender equality. Feminist art created opportunities and spaces that previously did not exist for women and minority artists, as well as paved the path for the identity art and activist art of the 1980s.
Read more here: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-feminist-art.htm
When the Museum of Modern Art announced in 1996 that it had just acquired Sherman’s complete Untitled Film Still series, the curators knew they had laid claim to one of the most representative works of the early 1980s American movement of “appropriation,” and “simulationism.” Both terms refer to American artists’ mimicking, in the first half of the 1980s, former art masterpieces or widely circulating images in the mass media, and critically reworking them to arouse a sense of unease in the viewer, indeed often suggesting that culture had become largely a game of theatrical posing and egoistic pretense. As Peter Galassi, then-curator of photography stated, “Sherman’s singular talent and sensibility crystallized broadly held concerns in the culture as a whole, about the role of mass media in our lives, and about the ways in which we shape our personal identities. Here, Sherman takes on the role of the small-town girl just happening upon the Big City. She is, typically, at first suspicious of the metropolitan lights and shadows, only to be eventually seduced by its undeniable attractions.
Black and White photograph – The Museum of Modern Art
Kruger’s earliest artworks date to 1969. Large woven wall hangings of yarn, beads, sequins, feathers, and ribbons, they exemplify the feminist recuperation of craft during this period. Despite her inclusion in the Whitney Biennial in 1973 and solo exhibitions at Artists Space and Fischbach Gallery, both in New York, the following two years, she was dissatisfied with her output and its detachment from her growing social and political concerns. In the fall of 1976, Kruger abandoned art making and moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at the University of California for four years and steeped herself in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes.
Cindy Sherman is a contemporary master of socially critical photography. She is a key figure of the “Pictures Generation,” a loose circle of American artists who came to artistic maturity and critical recognition during the early 1980s, a period notable for the rapid and widespread proliferation of mass media imagery. At first painting in a super-realist style in art school during the aftermath of American Feminism, Sherman turned to photography toward the end of the 1970s in order to explore a wide range of common female social roles, or personas.
Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party elevates female achievement in Western history to a heroic scale traditionally reserved for men. The Dinner Party is a massive ceremonial banquet in art, laid on a triangular table measuring 48 feet on each side. Combining the glory of sacramental tradition with the intimate detail of a carefully orchestrated social gathering, the artist represents 39 “guests of honor” by individually symbolic, larger-than-life-size china-painted porcelain plates rising from intricate textiles draped completely over the tabletops. Each plate features an image based on the butterfly, symbolic of a vaginal central core. The runners name the 39 women and contain images drawn from each one’s story, executed in the needlework of the time in which each woman lived.
- A milestone, multi-media installation created by Judy Chicago and hundreds of volunteers between 1974 and 1979.
- A symbolic history of women in Western civilization which has toured around the world to fifteen sites, six countries and a viewing audience of over one million people.
- In March 2007 this icon of twentieth-century art was permanently housed in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY.
The Dinner Party is one of the most well-known pieces of Feminist art in existence and is permanently housed at the Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The installation consists of a large banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine notable women from history and mythology. The settings have gold ceramic chalices and porcelain plates painted with butterfly- and vulva-inspired designs representing Mother Nature, the vagina, and the life-giving properties of being female. By doing this, Chicago offered unabashed femininity on the plate rather than a meal cooked by a woman whose identity would be cloaked passively behind her food offering. In addition to the thirty-nine settings, there are the names of 999 other women painted on the tiles below the triangular table.
Womanhouse: Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro
The installation Womanhouse encompassed an entire house in residential Hollywood organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro as the culmination of the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at California Institute for the Arts in 1972. The twenty-one all-female students first renovated the house, which had been previously marked for demolition, then installed site-specific art environments within the interior spaces that ranged from the sculptural figure of a woman trapped within a linen closet to the kitchen where walls and ceiling were covered with fried eggs that morphed into breasts. Many of the artists also created performances that took place within Womanhouse to further address the relationship between women and the home.
The entire collaborative piece was about a woman’s reclaiming of domestic space from one in which she was positioned as merely a wife and mother to one in which she was seen as a fully expressive being unconfined by gender assignment. This challenged traditional female roles and gave women a new realm to present their views within a thoroughly integrated context of art and life.
Mixed media site installation
Anatomy of a Kimono is one of many “femmages” Schapiro created, starting in the mid-1970s, and is based on the patterns of Japanese kimonos, fans, and robes. Schapiro used the term femmage to describe works that combined collage, painting, fabric, embroidery, and other “high art” and “decorative art” techniques, simultaneously highlighting women’s relation to those materials and processes.
Here, the artist collected donated handkerchiefs while touring the country and cobbled them together with other fabrics to form ten large panels filled with Japanese-inspired shapes. The work adopts the monumental scale of Abstract Expressionist canvases, but by using fabric instead of paint, Schapiro elevates a utilitarian and feminine material to the realm of “high art.”
Fabric and acrylic on canvas – Private Collection
ArtForum Advertisement (1974)
Artwork description & Analysis: In 1974, when artist Lynda Benglis was feeling underrepresented in the male-heavy art community, she reacted by creating a series of advertisements placed in magazines that took critical stabs at traditional depictions of women in the media. Her most famous ad was run in ArtForum in which she promoted her upcoming show at Paula Cooper Gallery by posing nude, holding a double-headed dildo, with sunglasses covering her eyes. She paid $3,000 for the ad, a small price for something that would establish her as a major player in Feminist art history. Also, by paying for the ad, Benglis was able to assure her voice would be heard without editing or censorship. She later cast a series of sculptures of the dildo, bent into a smile, a cheeky “f*** you” to the male-dominated art institutions.
Mary Kelly has contributed extensively to the discourse of feminism and postmodernism through her large-scale narrative installations and theoretical writings. Kelly’s work mediates between conceptual art and the more intimate interests of artists of the 1980s. Her work has been exhibited internationally and she is considered among the most influential contemporary artists working today. Mary Kelly is Professor of Art at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is Head of Interdisciplinary Studio, an area she initiated for artists engaged in site-specific, collective, and project based work. Mary Kelly is represented by “Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects” in Culver City, CA and “Pippy Houldsworth Gallery” in London, UK.
These form one section of a larger six-part work that documents the relationship between Kelly and her son over a period of six years. on contemporary thought, and in particular on psychoanalysis, it explores the contradictions for a woman artist between her creative and procreative roles. The work, says Kelly, traces the differences between ‘my lived experience as a mother and my analysis of that experience’. To make these panels Kelly recorded and then reflected on a number of conversations with her son, before finally allowing him to scribble across her carefully documented texts.