new-york

Dara Birnbaum, Chaired Anxieties: Abandoned, 1975, still from a black-and-white video, 5 minutes 15 seconds.

Dara Birnbaum

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

Dara Birnbaum, Chaired Anxieties: Abandoned, 1975, still from a black-and-white video, 5 minutes 15 seconds.

How often has one sat on a subway next to a man sitting with legs spread wide enough to occupy two seats? He commands space by physical gesture alone—and women rarely adopt a similarly dominating pose. In Dara Birnbaum’s mid-1970s video explorations of social conventions surrounding women’s postures and self-presentation, she tests the long-accepted custom of “being a good girl and keeping your legs crossed.” Demure Birnbaum is not, in Chaired Anxieties: Abandoned, 1975, as she performs a sequence of movements in a simple wooden folding chair. With a fixed camera setup, the five-plus-minute work captures the artist entering a pose—presenting her crotch to the camera in a wide straddle so that it is centered in the frame, for example—and holding the position for an uncomfortably long moment. The effect is shocking.

What men can get away with, and women can’t, is the

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