Carolee Schneemann, Portrait Partials, 1970, thirty-five black-and-white photographs, overall 26 7/8 x 26 3/4".

Los Angeles

“Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution”

MOCA Geffen Contemporary
152 North Central Avenue
March 4–July 16

Curated by Connie Butler

On both coasts of the nation this March, there is to be a revival of the category of feminist art. At the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles there will be an exhibition titled “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” organized by Connie Butler (formerly a curator at MoCA and now with the Museum of Modern Art in New York). At the Brooklyn Museum, timed to coincide with the institution’s inauguration of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, there will be an international survey of contemporary art called “Global Feminisms,” curated by the Sackler’s Maura Reilly and art historian Linda Nochlin. Both exhibitions are large and global in their outlooks; both identify what is on view with the feminist revolution. Both look back to the beginnings of the feminist art movement. MoCA achieves this by focusing on the period between 1965 and 1980, while the Brooklyn Museum does so by implication, having slated its presentation of “Global Feminisms” on the thirtieth anniversary of its landmark show “Women Artists: 1550-–1950” and in tandem with a permanent reinstallation of Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, 1974–79. Both exhibitions emphasize the plural nature of feminist art: art made all over the world by women of all different nationalities, classes, and cultural and racial affiliations, and presumably identified with both the “essentialist” and the “constructionist” brands of feminist theory and politics, not to mention the many strategies of feminist art, from craft work to political exposé to canon-busting to the deconstruction of gender mythologies to body-centered investigations. Finally, though neither show speaks to the fact that it focuses on women’s art, both of them seem to do just that, thus eliding the distinction between the categories “feminist” and “woman.”

The revival of the category “feminist art,” but with a global twist and with an emphasis on pluralism, is a good thing. These exhibitions stand to bring the lessons of feminism out of storage and out of the closet, displaying underrepresented work and broadening the purview of the category beyond the local and the orthodox. But the equation, indirectly expressed in the surveys’ preliminary press materials, between feminist and women’s art is not so good. Many women’s studies programs, which like feminist art took hold during the ’70s, have shifted away from the category of women to those of gender, sexuality, and/or feminism in order to express the fact that the category “woman,” like that of “man,” is a function of a larger structure rather than a natural class of person, and in order to desegregate the study of sex and gender. While it is obviously too early to tell, these shows might not follow suit. I applaud their focus on art by women and recognize that the MoCA show’s self-prescribed targeting of “second wave” feminism is historically justified in this regard. But I am leery of a correspondence that may be set up between women’s art and feminist art, for it suggests, first, that only women can be feminists, and second, that women artists must be concerned with feminist themes, which must in turn be women’s themes. That would be a double disservice to both women and feminists, a proclamation that feminism is only of interest to women and that women are a class apart from the human. Surely the feminist revolution has shown us the fallacy of both ideas. So it is to be hoped that “Wack!” and “Global Feminisms” will provide openings toward a future in which male artists may be feminists and female artists may concern themselves with whatever engages them.