PRINT Summer 1985


Women Shaping Art: Profiles Of Power

Women Shaping Art: Profiles Of Power.

By Judy K. Collischan van Wagner, New York: Praeger, 1984, 300 pp., 19 black and white illustrations.

Women Shaping Art devotes a chapter to each of 19 women in American Modern and contemporary art. Focusing on art writers and dealers, the selection presents such strong figures and unlike minds as Betty Parsons, Katherine Kuh, Ileana Sonnabend, Paula Cooper, Rosalind Krauss, and Holly Solomon, to name a few, and includes a lineage of issues and ideas related to art, art business, art history, and feminism. The book serves as both a history and a collective biography.

Combining a critical overview with interview material and excerpts from the writings of some of the subjects, van Wagner provides a sense of each woman’s personal vision, as well as a report on the reception and impact their achievements have had in the world. This allows us to compare their successes with the sometimes roundabout paths their careers have taken, and to come up with an instructive picture of how bold thoughts and brave actions actually operate in everyday life. Van Wagner asks each of her subjects how she came to do what she did, and in answering they reveal what I most liked about the book: their idealism about art and their intellectual and spiritual connection to it. There is a conspicuous but welcome lack of self-aggrandizement and memoir vindictiveness. As presented in the book, these women are fairly strongly focused on the most high-minded of motivations, from the pristine ideals of Marian Willard, for example, who opened her first New York gallery in 1936 to show art based on her perceptive early interest in the relationship between new abstract art and the ideas of Carl Jung, to the continual confrontation of intellectual rigor and personal growth shown in the work of critic Lucy Lippard. In many of the essays there is also important information about making a career in art. Certainly the sense of mission shared by these women has contributed to the fertile ground that has helped produce American art in the 20th century.

Judith Shea