Academic journal article Social Justice

The Women Artists' Cooperative Space as a Site for Social Change: Artemisia Gallery, Chicago (1973-1979)

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Women Artists' Cooperative Space as a Site for Social Change: Artemisia Gallery, Chicago (1973-1979)

Article excerpt

FEMINIST CRITIC LAURA COTTINGHAM'S ASSESSMENT OF WOMEN ARTISTS' COOPERATIVES provides two key reasons why the history of these spaces is marginalized and their activist agendas have been historically undervalued. Cottingham (2000:31) commented:

   The extensive alternative exhibition network that feminists
   constructed provided them with a sense of community and critical
   exchange, places to show, and audiences, but it couldn't provide
   any significant influx of money. Nor did it function as a
   springboard into the commercial art structure, as most art
   professionals did not view or place value on art that was presented
   in cooperative and temporary venues.

First, Cottingham's conclusions emphasize the notion that a cooperative's value is based in part on its ability to provide public exposure for their artists and an eventual entry into the commercial art market, sustaining modernism's individualist lens that diminishes collaborative and activist acts that also demand commercial success to establish critical credibility. (2) Second, Cottingham's position places the questions of community and critical exchange between artists on the margins of any historical consideration and, more important, overshadows and dilutes the activist agendas established by many of these separatist cooperatives in the 1970s. As T.V. Reed (2005: xvi) argued, the history of cultural movements or groups, such as the women artists' cooperative, face erasure because it is difficult to quantify the results of their efforts in comparison to other types of activism in which voting patterns, money raised, and legislation passed can be traced. What is often overlooked and will be examined in this essay is that the memberships of these spaces attempted to arm women with the tools necessary to attack from within the institutional structures that marginalized them in the first place.

This article will reclaim the voice of these activists; it specifically explores a series of programming and exhibitions implemented by Artemisia Gallery in Chicago from 1973 to 1979, which prepared women artists to enter the professional workforce equipped with feminist pedagogy to promote social justice for women in the art world. Each event was sponsored by the Artemisia Fund, which was founded after the gallery was incorporated in 1973, to foster a national educational dialogue regarding the history of women artists, as well as the social, economic, and political concerns they faced (Poe, 1979). "Economic Structures of the Art World" (1976), "Feminist Art Workers" (1976), and "Feminist Art Methodology" (1976) were workshops opened for enrollment to artists outside Artemisia and run by noted feminist art activists and theorists, such as Nancy Angelo, Candace Compton, Cheri Gaulke, Ruth Iskin, Johnnie Johnson, Laurel Klick, Ellen Lanyon, and Arlene Raven. They taught participants how to apply feminist agendas to their own careers and to assert change where they taught, exhibited, and sold their work. Lastly, "Both Sides Now: An International Exhibition Integrating Feminism and Leftist Politics" (1979), curated by the noted feminist critic Lucy Lippard, engendered a dialogue regarding emerging shifts in feminist discourse and its relationship to political action. Overall, this assessment of Artemisia's activist agendas and demands for social justice will serve as a case study and call for a thorough reexamination and theorizing of collaborative activist art in general. Reasserting Artemisia's history is also important because many young women are unaware of the struggles undertaken to make female artists visible in the academy and the art market today. As Amelia Jones (1999: 18) observed, feminism among art students is "at the same time both naturalized into popular culture and invisible...."

Founding and Philosophy of Artemisia Gallery and the Artemisia Fund

Historically, the terms "woman" and "artist" were irreconcilable; when combined, they evoked the image of a woman engaging in a hobby in a domestic space, rather than in professional or public practice. …

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