Andrea Bowers: ANDREW KREPS GALLERY

By Richard, Frances | Artforum International, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Andrea Bowers: ANDREW KREPS GALLERY


Richard, Frances, Artforum International


Published in Berkeley in 1973 and edited by Kirsten Grimstad and Susan Rennie, The New Woman's Survival Catalog is a gazetteer of second-wave feminism, a directory of the era's woman-run bookstores, law firms, credit unions, health clinics, and more. Andrea Bowers, whose documentary practice consistently considers grassroots activism, takes the Catalog as the context for "The New Woman's Survival Guide," her latest project. Or is it the project's pretext? Or simply its text? That is, does gallery-based art borrowing content from an almost-forty-year-old activist sourcebook produce an independent work in dialogue with that activism? Or does the show become an exercise in radical chic and nostalgia? Or is the exhibition simply a way to bring a vision such as that found in the Catalog back into public space?

Such questions, of course, have to do with tensions regarding spectacle, commodity, and the power of aesthetically savvy political commitment. These fascinating problems are the substrate of Bowers's art, as seen in works about the aids Quilt (The Weight of Relevance, 2007), tree-sitting (Vieja Gloria, 2004), and the racially coded media coverage of the deaths of two aid workers, Faiz Ali Salim and Maria Ruzicka, in Iraq in 2005 (Eulogies to One and Another, 2006). In these and related pieces, Bowers has evolved a visual vocabulary of posters, banners, books, and videos, along with a drawing practice centered on handmade, exquisitely accurate copies of documents and photographs. Video was absent in the recent show, but posters, drawings, and an artist's book kept the questions front and center.

The gallery was gridded on three sides with pages from the Catalog, enlarged to poster size and alternating with placards from now and NARAL marches, anarchist actions, and many other organizations and protests, up to and including Occupy Wall Street. Herstory heroines from Ida Tarbell to Angela Davis to Wonder Woman--who is brandishing a glowing speculum--appeared. Michelle Obama popped up as Rosie the Riveter. A bumper sticker admonished, When You Finally REALIZE CLIMATE CHANCE IS REAL, TRY NOT TO BLAME FEMINISTS AND Gays. Interspersed with the archival materials were colorful wallpaper-like panels created by Bowers herself--flowers and butterflies, cheery geometries, sparkly gold.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Eight larger framed images, rendered by Bowers in silvery graphite, hung atop the poster installation, foregrounding wittily militant graphics and slogans; The Discovery of the Clitoris, 2011, for instance, gives us a group of Matisse-y dancers helping one another perform the act at hand. …

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