Women Artists Win!

Justesen_sculpture_ii_web_image Ingrid Rowland reviews Linda Nochlin’s Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye and WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution an exhibition at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, in the NYRB:

The “WACK!” catalog shows the room-size crocheted web of Faith Wilding’s Crocheted Environment of 1972 as well as Judy Chicago’s ceramic, embroidered, and oft-attended Dinner Party, a triangular table set for an imaginary banquet of thirty-nine women luminaries (Virginia Woolf, Georgia O’Keeffe), each with her embroidered section of the long formal tablecloth and her own distinctive plate. Neither the ceramic work nor the embroidery is of the highest quality, but the point of the piece was always its guest list, a list to spark a truly grand dinner party of the imagination. After wandering for years, The Dinner Party found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum just as “WACK!” opened.

It is far easier, of course, to mount an exhibition on art by women than it is to mount an exhibition of specifically feminist art. The subtitle to “WACK!,” “Art and the Feminist Revolution,” has been carefully chosen to allow its curators to include women artists who explicitly rejected any identification with the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, like the Belgian filmmaker Lili Dujourie, or who learned the hard way, like the African-American artists Howardena Pindell and Faith Ringgold, that most of its members were already daughters of privilege: predominantly white and well educated.

As the “WACK!” catalog acknowledges by its inclusive choice of artists, it was probably the sheer presence of women, rather than their personal credos, that really delivered a whack to the world of art. Ultimately, any successful movement gathers a following, and most pioneers make reluctant followers, no matter the cause. “WACK!” chiefly demonstrates that in the twentieth century, as before, women were present in every aspect of art’s avant-garde, from abstraction to realism, minimalism, performance art, body art, film, video, fiber arts, not to mention the ancient art of painting.