New York

“Thirteen Women Artists”

117 Prince Street Gallery

It is dangerous to suggest attributes, whether descriptive or critical in nature, of art made by women. While it has often been argued that the work is more organic, centralized, earthy, flowery, delicate, or sexual, these qualities are applicable to only a small portion of work done by women and hold for an equal number of men. For example, the obsession with sexual imagery in Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, and Niki de Saint-Phalle has its male counterparts in Lucas Samaras, Bruce Nauman, and other post-Minimalists. The category “Women’s Art” may be necessary as a political issue but it can obscure what is of primary importance, the work of individual artists. Because many group shows have not been subjected to rigorous selection, much mediocre work has been exhibited. The most noteworthy exception, Lucy Lippard’s show “Twenty-Six Contemporary Women Artists” at the Larry Aldrich Museum, was virtually ignored in New York.

It is now politically difficult to be honest about much of the work exhibited in group shows. For example, the exhibition at Finch College of recipients of New York State Council of the Arts awards was widely advertised, treated like a major event, and assumed to be of central importance to women’s art. While the dance and poetry was substantial, the painting and sculpture was dull, undaring, and amateurish. The single exception was Abigail Gerd, whose Corridor Piece was a looming construction of wire and transparent paper in a dark room with blue lights.

The value of art is based on art and not on political issues. While the Registry of Women Artists is valuable as a moral platform, it has little value unless used with discrimination. The strength of the show “Thirteen Women Artists” at 117 Prince, organized and mounted by the participants, is due to much thought and excellent judgment in selection. Of the several artists who were noteworthy, Audrey Hemenway constructs swamps,- gardens, and streams by setting earth and plants in transparent fiberglass bins. While her model for an Environment for Living Things remains unconvincing, the transpositions of wilderness settings into the gallery show a pointed naturalist’s statement as well as a tongue-in-cheek, romanticism. Paula Tavins exhibits stuffed cloth rectangles dangling from a loose grid. Sensual and inventive in material, they are not as obsessive as the modular buttonlike forms she exhibited in Lippard’s show. Loretta Dunkleman’s two paintings within her Sky Series seem to be modulated by light and atmosphere. Though shiny, they are muffled, as if seen through a veil.

While much other work is strong, not enough of each artist’s ideas are visible in the show. Group shows are helpful for introducing new artists to the public, for indicating the present position of already established artists, and for demonstrating the range of concerns within a certain time period, but the current and prolonged relegation of women to group shows, while helpful in exposing unknowns, is frustrating for both the artists and the audience. Because of this need for more comprehensive exhibitions, a succession of one-woman shows in the Prince Street Gallery would be more helpful in establishing the quality of women artists.

Lizzie Borden