Dodie Bellamy

  • Joan Brown, Self-Portrait at Age 42, 1980, enamel on canvas, 71 3⁄4 × 60". © Estate of Joan Brown.


    I LOVE A GOOD RETROSPECTIVE and its implicit narrative of salvation. I enter the gallery prepared to witness the career of some super-deserving artist plucked from the wreckage of disregard or misunderstanding. I expect to feel thrill and awe; I want to depart teary-eyed. “Joan Brown” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art did not disappoint me.

    The plot of this retrospective is more compelling than most: Woman artist finds early success in a male-dominated scene but shockingly turns her back on that success. It’s the story of a woman who constantly reinvents her art, who follows her gut

  • View of Tanya Wischerath’s Blue Titania, 2021.
    diary December 14, 2022

    Office Politics

    WHEN LESBIAN AUTHOR and educator Diana Cage asked me if I’d like to accompany her to the opening of a “trans art show” at the offices of California State Senator Scott Wiener, I jumped at the chance. I have a soft spot for art presented outside the sanctioned white cubes of museums and galleries, but an official government site comes with its own baggage, its own set of priorities and prohibitions that an exhibit would have to grapple with. Diana and I had no clue what we were going to find, and that made the evening feel like an adventure.

    Presented on the occasion of Trans Awareness Week, “

  • Erlea Maneros Zabala, Prompt Book (detail), 2016–22, inkjet on acetate, inkjet on paper, inkjet on vellum, ink on vellum, metal tubing, dimensions variable. Photo: Ander Sagastiberri.
    interviews July 25, 2022

    Erlea Maneros Zabala

    BORN AND RAISED IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY, Erlea Maneros Zabala relocated to Los Angeles in 2000. I met her briefly in 2007 through Raymond Pettibon. Though we instantly clicked, our paths didn’t cross again until 2019, when we found ourselves at the same Christmas Eve party. In May, I visited Erlea in her house in the high desert, two hours outside of Los Angeles, where she walked me through a slide presentation of “The Voice of the Valley,” her solo exhibition currently on view at Artium Museoa, Museum of Contemporary Art of the Basque Country through September 18, 2022. The show comprises four

  • Lynn Hershman Leeson, Self Portrait as Another Person, 1965, wax, wig, glass eyes, makeup, tape recorder, Plexiglas, wood sensor, sound, 20 × 15 × 12".

    Lynn Hershman Leeson

    “About Face” was an intimate, career-spanning exhibit, comprised of approximately forty pieces that explored Lynn Hershman Leeson’s passion for masks. The major tropes associated with her art—mirroring, replication, projection, cyborgs, screens, avatars, humor—were represented here, in a questioning of the divides between fantasy, the virtual, and the real. Arranged nonchronologically, each artifact acted as a sort of hologram that references the whole. This work suggested someone deeply familiar with ungroundedness. It exuded the brilliance and caginess of the hypervigilant. The artist’s rigorous

  • View of “Judy Chicago: A Retrospective,” 2021–22. From left: Rainbow Pickett, 1965/2021; Birth Hood, 1965/2011. Photo: Drew Altizer.

    Judy Chicago

    JUDY CHICAGO IS EIGHTY-TWO. This is the first retrospective of her work. Late recognition is all too common for important female artists. Lee Bontecou was seventy-three at the time of her first major retrospective, Mierle Laderman Ukeles seventy-six, Carolee Schneemann seventy-eight, Faith Ringgold eighty-eight; Jay DeFeo had been dead for twenty-three years (she would have been eighty-four). The first solo show for Yolanda López, who passed away on September 3 at the age of seventy-eight, opened this past month at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Take any modern female artist with a

  • Still from a 73-minute livestreamed video of Judy Chicago’s Forever de Young, performed on October 16, 2021 at the de Young Museum, San Francisco.
    slant October 26, 2021

    Up In Smoke

    GIDDY FROM SIPPING FLUTES of the de Young Museum’s prosecco, my friend Karen and I quickly realized that from the VIP section, the view of Judy Chicago’s smoke sculpture, Forever de Young, was going to suck. Since we were standing to the side of the huge pyramid-shaped scaffolding that was holding the canisters of colored pigments that would be “released” into the air, we knew we would not be able to see the whole picture. We scanned for a better vantage point but were cordoned off, and the rest of the crowd formed a dense mass that looked impossible to insert ourselves into. So we hunkered down

  • Peonies sent by Vincent Fecteau in memory of Kevin.
    slant June 15, 2020


    MONDAY, JUNE 15, is the anniversary of the death of writer Kevin Killian, who was my husband for thirty-three years. The thought of spending it alone during San Francisco’s shelter-in-place both terrifies and numbs me. I have discovered that I have an enormous capacity for numbness, which continues to surprise me. Before Kevin’s death, I couldn’t bear to think about the horrors of widowhood. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking seemed like the most dangerous book in the world; I wouldn’t touch it. After he died, I read it compulsively.

    For all other anniversaries this past year, I went to

  • David Horvitz, 241543903, 2009–. Installation view, “snap + share: transmitting photographs from mail art to social networks,” SFMOMA. Courtesy of SFMOMA. Photo: © Matthew Millman Photography. 
    slant May 14, 2019

    Photo Op

    I FLASH my SFMOMA lifetime artist membership card, and the woman at the counter asks me, “What do you have in the collection?” Her question gets me tense. A few months after the museum sent me the card in the mail—a total surprise—some brainiac in acquisitions questioned my eligibility, and they threatened to revoke my membership. See me on the phone, shouting at a museum bureaucrat, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is beyond tacky.” I do not know if this cheerful woman now is just being chatty or if this is a test. I tell her my husband has a piece in the Kikibox. She looks confused and asks,


    I BECAME INTERESTED in Mary Beth Edelson for self-centered reasons. I read that she was born and raised in East Chicago, Indiana, a mere six miles from Hammond, my hometown. Edelson has described East Chicago as a “booming multi-racial steel mill town of immigrants.” My brother worked in the steel mill she’s referencing. Rust Belt Indiana is a place nobody comes from, and nothing interesting ever happens there. But Mary Beth Edelson came from there, so I have an urge to see her as a spiritual mother. She was born in 1933, two years after my actual mother. My mother was the daughter of an alcoholic

  • Heart emojis ca. 1995.
    slant February 14, 2019

    I Heart You

    I SIT IN THE COFFEE HOUSE AREA of The Market, a giant food court on the ground floor of the building where Twitter Headquarters lives, eating two types of hot bar curry from a paper box that reads “DISCOVERY. COMMUNITY. REAL FOOD.” I’m also sipping a rather caustic canned pinot gris, which I poured into the thermal bottle I carried my tea to work in. They have a nice wine bar in The Market where I could get something much better, in a stemmed glass, but that would destroy the feral essence of the moment, the way I’m wolfing down my food with a compostable plastic fork. Valentine’s Day—my

  • Detail of a stone plaque from the Temple of Inanna at Nippur showing a Sumerian goddess, possibly Inanna, c. 2500 BC.
    slant January 04, 2019

    The Return of Inanna

    I FIRST ENCOUNTERED the Sumerian myth of Inanna in the 1980s, when I read Sylvia Brinton Perera’s Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women (1981). At the time I was plagued with a neurological disorder in which electrified waves would shoot through my body, distorting my sensory processing in ways that terrified me. I memorized Sylvia Plath’s “The Hanging Man”: By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me./ I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet. What if these blue volts went on forever, I fretted—what if the world as I knew it was over? When Inanna enters the

  • Kathy Acker's toy tarantula atop manuscript pages of her 1973 novel The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula in “GET RID OF MEANING,” an exhibition at the Badischer Kunstverein. All photos unless otherwise noted: Dodie Bellamy.
    slant December 06, 2018

    Leaky Boundaries

    NOVEMBER 13–25, 2018—I give three readings/talks in London, one in Oxford, one in Berlin; and I deliver a paper at a Kathy Acker symposium in Karlsruhe. Throughout the trip devastating fires rage in Northern California, the Bay Area air quality going from unhealthy—red on the AirNow infographic—to very unhealthy: purple, and then brown, like a blood clot. I call my husband, and urge him to use the air filter; I log onto Amazon and order him an air mask for there are no air masks to be found in San Francisco. As in all disasters, you either prepare ahead of time or you are fucked.