Fundamental Feminism

Article excerpt

WACK! ART AND THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

LOS ANGELES

MARCH 4-JULY 16, 2007

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles presents one of the most interesting and thoughtful exhibitions in its history, "WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution." Curated by Connie Butler, "WACK!"--an invented term meant to express the energy and idealism of a moment in time--provides an overview of first generation contemporary feminist art, which includes works made between 1965 and 1980 from 120 artists (all of whom are women) from twenty-one countries. The exhibition positions feminism as a critical force that creates dynamic new ways of organizing culture. Butler suggests that feminist art practice has brought about fundamental social and artistic change, resonating beyond modernist art paradigms. Feminist art upends the primary artist-centric preoccupation with form and the stereotype of the heroic individual male artist.

What becomes clear through "WACK!" is that feminist sensibility is a multifaceted, evolving work in progress; the exhibition represents the dynamic first phase of an ongoing project. Current practitioners (both men and women) have distilled the early lessons and inspirations of feminist practice into diverse art-making strategies. As with all pioneering efforts, a debt is owed to the first generation for kicking open the doors of opportunity in 1965. (Some of these artists worked in relative isolation, others found working in community and through collaborative efforts as a means to connect in an art world that was exclusive and sexist.) Forty-two years later, it would seem the overall situation has changed in terms of equity and visibility for women. Yet, a recent survey of solo shows by women at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City shows the percentage remains dismally low. The appearance of the Guerilla Girls at MOMA in their now-famous 1985 intervention on behalf of equity for women in our cultural institutions is even more relevant today.

In one sense, struggle is an atmosphere permeating "WACK!" The female body is the battleground and the preferred medium where artists develop new ideas and approaches to feminist issues. Some of the work and documentation react to oppressive male culture. The call to action is to overthrow dead and out-of-date paradigms. Cosey Fanni Tutti's sly send-up of Marcel Duchamp's work goes right to the heart of the matter, taking on the demigod of contemporary art practice with biting humor. The importance of the body to representation and the confluence of art and politics are signifiers of these times. Other works seek to validate "women's work" by employing materials not associated with arts at that time, such as Faith Wilding's crocheted environment, "Womb Room" (1972).

Barbara Smith, one of the show's senior and truly revolutionary artists, described and contextualized feminist practice as part of its time. The confluence of anti-Vietnam War protests, the North American civil rights movement, and the activation of a disenfranchised youth culture through music and arts was the broader cultural milieu in which the feminist revolution thrived. The revolution was joined and informed by this heady mixture of uncompromising social investigation that characterizes the 1960s and 1970s.

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In a strong parallel to the sense of struggle, "WACK!" has an intense quality of joy, optimism, and idealism. …