Magazine article Artforum International

When Attitude Becomes Norm: Rhea Anastas on "Revolution in the Making"

Magazine article Artforum International

When Attitude Becomes Norm: Rhea Anastas on "Revolution in the Making"

Article excerpt

HAUSER WIRTH & SCHIMMEL'S first Los Angeles exhibition builds off of two rolling, wavelike ideas. The first traces a tradition of expressiveness, materiality, and the handmade in what the curators call the "studio-based" practice of twentieth- and twenty-first-century sculpture. The second nests these ideas about abstraction and the sculptural in an emphatically feminist argument, one that asserts that the production, display, and reception of such art has been shaped by the personhood of the artists who tended to practice it, and by the sexist social and institutional conditions those individuals faced under modernism. Repeating a 1970s-era tradition of feminist exhibition-making--one that is as entangled in debate as the long modernist tradition and its claims, critiques, and counterclaims about the studio--"Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016" assembles thirty-four artists who were in each case selected for their work, but were also selected for being artists who are women.

I can't help but hear this unapologetic embrace of sexual difference as what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would have called the "bad news [that must] be always already known"--which is to say, a comforting pessimism that serves only to perpetuate a retrograde status quo. Why are we so hung up on these biologically sanctioned social relations? What ideas do they uphold about gender and women, bodies and normalcy, work and the studio, public and private life? The show could have been mounted just the same with artists who are male or artists who identify in other ways, or it could have drawn equally from the same artists without claiming that a gendered "female sensibility" informs their practice--they're simply thirty-four artists the curators selected, for reasons to do with their work and its models and ideas. Also overlooked in favor of an "empowering," identity-based approach is a radical feminist tradition of negatively structured genealogy, which, through a rejection of patriarchy, foregrounds the transmission of knowledge through matrilineal connections. It would have been meaningful to see the work of such artists as Gedi Sibony and Rodney McMillian in this exhibition for the ways in which those artists--who, if you must know, are men--draw out novel expressive modes associated with feminist practice in their art. What the show wants to call "female sensibility" is multiple, as masculine or queer as it is feminine, and it is also contradictory, since identifying with the feminine can be disempowering for all.

Gender debates aside, "Revolution in the Making" is a wish list, a checklist, a tactile, textured art-historical lineup of abstract sculpture writ into space. Impressive in its expansiveness and historical imagination, the show is also a consummately hybrid product: Conceived by Paul Schimmel, a distinguished curator whose career spans the mid-'70s to the present, and Jenni Sorkin, an accomplished scholar and curator currently teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the show is research-driven, with a substantial publication including essays by Sorkin, Elizabeth A. T. Smith, and Anne M. Wagner, yet carried out in a for-profit venue, a gallery--where Schimmel is now partner and vice president--that is one of the contemporary art world's most influential global entities. To realize the show, the curators secured dozens of loans from leading museums and private collections in the US and many other countries; the lenders list is more extensive than that of most large-scale contemporary museum exhibitions. (It is worth noting that only eight Hauser & Wirth artists can be found among the artists on view, and that amid the nearly one hundred works in the show, less than 20 percent are available for sale.) "Revolution in the Making" also has an institutional precedent: Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is just walking distance from the Museum of Contemporary Art's first building of the early 1980s, the Geffen Contemporary at moca, and its proximity prompts visceral memories of the 2007 exhibition "WACK! …

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