This book has been on my mind for many years. Long before I organized “The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Laughter” exhibition, I had explored the connections between women and laughter in the writings of Gertrude Stein. Stein’s mode of writing—transgressive, excessive, and fearlessly humorous—provided a model for looking at current developments in women’s art practice. While there was never enough time to write a book during the summer, there was time to write shorter essays on individual artists. These I wrote with the theme of laughter in mind, knowing that at a later date I would integrate these essays into the book. Earlier versions or portions of individual chapters appeared in Art Journal (Summer 1994); Meaning: Contemporary Art Issues (May 1993); Heresies 26, 1993; Parkett (December 1992); American Imago (Fall 1991); and Nancy Spero: Work Since 1950, 1987. The book may have been on my mind, but it was not really conceived until the spring of 1991 when Lisa Tickner arrived at the college where I teach in upstate New York and managed to pull me out of the deep bureaucratic morass I was in as chair of my department. She looked over the proposal for the book, told me to make a few changes, mail it, and as she put it, “Bob’s your uncle!” This was the first of many important contributions friends were to make to the book.
This is a book of friends. Writing is an isolated activity, but throughout the time it took me to bring this manuscript to completion, I always felt I was working as part of a collective. I am grateful to all the artists who contributed to the book. Our ongoing conversations about art and the friendships formed while working on this project have become part of the fabric of my life. I am particularly grateful to Susan Unterberg who traveled with me on my last trip to Russia to take photographs of artists’ work. I would like to thank the Guerrilla Girls for the cover of the book and Kathy Grove for her work on many of the photographs in the book. Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird, and Avis Lang read the manuscript and made many helpful suggestions. Margaret McKay also read the manuscript and prepared the index, just as she did for my first book and for my PhD