Re:Writing Art History
June 10 – July 22, 2011
Curated by Tyler Stewart, Museum Studies Intern
Works from the University of Lethbridge Art Collection
In 1971 art historian Linda Nochlin posed the question “Why have there been no great women artists?” – one of the most loaded questions to possibly ask during the rise of the feminist art revolution. Rather than attempt to answer that question in a singular manner, many writers have focused on the plethora of causes that keep excellent female artists on the margins of the art world, rather than at its core. This exhibition focuses on some of the many talented female artists working during the late twentieth century, before, during and after the apex of the feminist art movement during the 1970s, into the 1980s and early 1990s. While some would not self-identify as feminist artists per se, they all make important contributions to the realm of artistic knowledge as women.
Many were overshadowed during the most productive points of their careers by their colleagues or partners; the stunning photographic work of Berenice Abbott often negated by her former role as assistant to Man Ray; Lee Krasner’s mastery of colour and form eclipsed by her artist-hero husband Jackson Pollock and his ejaculatory drip-paintings; Joyce Wieland’s intensely personal stain paintings and later, her superb film works, both obscured by the work of her partner Michael Snow. However, other female artists were able to avoid being subjugated by their male counterparts and made significant advances in the world of visual art. Miriam Schapiro was one of the most vocal voices of the feminist art movement, creating the Womanhouse project, perhaps the most important collaborative project of the time. Her work often focused on creating a place for women in the art historical canon, where many female artists were ignored and excluded. The photography of Suzy Lake investigates how appearance can affect one’s identity, in a time where men and women were beginning to question their increasingly fluid gender roles and expectations for behavior. Her work also examines how the passive female figure is the receiver of the penetrating male gaze (see Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking 1973 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” for more on this), but also how it can be confronted or subverted.
While the feminist art revolution of the 1970s and 1980s made progress towards achieving equity in the arts, during the 1990s and into the new millennium many of those changes have slowly eroded, as many gender theorists now claim that the “women problem” has been solved. This is simply not the case. Female artists must often work much harder and longer to reach the levels of success their male counterparts enjoy, which demonstrates a clear lack of anything one might call gender equity. The artists in this exhibition are valuable examples of how the patriarchal structure of the art world may be challenged, confronted and overcome by focused determination. Continuing the fight to achieve gender equity is not an issue that should be left to a few women artists though, but is a battle that we must all take part in to create positive social change.
- Tyler Stewart, Museum Studies Intern, Dept. of Art