Feminist art ‘the most important artistic movement since World War II’
Jess McCabe // 27 July 2009
This Washington Post article from the archives makes the case that the feminist art movement – particularly from the 1960s to ’70s and in the US – was the most important since WW2.
“Wack!” has the same mix of media you’d find in any contemporary biennial: Lots of video; installations of all kinds, ranging from a feminist “clubhouse” built from mattresses to a room-size sculpture made of sand-filled pantyhose; plenty of photography, staged as well as documentary; detritus and documents left over from performances and conceptual projects; a smattering of idea-driven painting.
And the show has the same political charge and drive as a lot of very recent work in those media. Even some of the most innovative experiments of the 1960s, such as the conceptual abstraction of Sol LeWitt or the radical video and film works of Bruce Nauman and Michael Snow, had centered on asking questions about the nature of art.
The feminists cared less for art than for the important things it can be used to talk about.
And because gender affects just about every aspect of human experience, feminist artists found occasion to talk about almost everything. They dealt with topics that leading artists have been broaching ever since: bodies, class, race, consumerism, the art market, colonialism, political and cultural power.
Even when they borrowed approaches dreamed up by men, the feminists gave them new political heft. At first glance, Eleanor Antin’s 144 black-and-white shots of a female body, arranged in a 4-by-36 grid, look like plain-Jane conceptual art, perhaps addressing issues such as photography and form. In fact, Antin’s grid represents four daily shots of the artist herself, trimming her nude body down to a more “ideal” size through 36 days of dieting. It’s called “Carving: A Traditional Sculpture,” riffing on the ancient Greek idea of the male artist who whittles away at gross matter to find the ideal beauty — usually slender, female beauty — hidden deep inside.
Incidentally, the article was inspired by WACK! a feminist art exhibition in the US a few years ago – the site for the exhibition is still live and full of interesting stuff on feminist art and photos of some of the works.