where my ladies at/art?

So it’s been about damn time that some fierce women’s art shows came down the pipeline. There are the two shows I just posted about at Traywick and QNA, but that’s just the beginning! It seems like the West Coast hell-raising was kicked off last year by the various spring 2007 exhibitions and events down in Lo-Cal (WACK! at MOCA in LA’s Little Tokyo, Exquisite Acts and Everyday Rebellions at CalArts, Shared Women at LACE, Multiple Vantage Points at the LA Municipal Art Gallery), and are reverberating up to us here in No-Cal even as we speak.

Not to suggest that No-Cal follows Lo-Cal: gawd forbid! (Maybe we’re just more fashionably late.) But what’s with the timing? What did I miss? I mean, it’s not as if a new generation of women artists have suddenly come out of the woodwork here, or as if feminism is suddenly de moda again. Maybe I’m just noticing it because I’ve been thinking about it more lately? Perhaps a number of people, both women and men, have realized that we’ve been getting pretty complacent about what equality and shared responsibility look like, and whether progressive change is still occurring, and perhaps that’s renewing some conversations that were never resolved to begin with. Well, one can hope.

On the fabulous Praba Pilar’s site, she posted the stats below which I’ve often referred to for a reality check, especially when I’ve looked around a supposedly progressive, liberal art world and have still seen the distribution of opportunities/gender roles still looking suspiciously old-school.

67% of Bachelors in Fine Arts go to women.
59% of trained artists and art historians are women.
66.5% of PhD.s in Art History go to women.
60% of the MFAs in Fine Arts go to women
5% of works in museums are by women.
17% of works in galleries are by women.
26% of artists reviewed in art periodicals are women.
Women artists’ income is 30% that of male artists.
* These statistics are from Women’s Action Coalition Book WAC STATS and apply to the U.S.A.

I don’t know what year these stats are from (Praba? When?), but my own informal, subjective poll suggests that it’s still pretty accurate. I remember reading this Jerry Saltz piece last year about the dearth of representation for women artists in galleries and museums, which he backed up with similar stats. What was really interesting was another follow-up piece he wrote where he discussed the incredible hostility and denials he received in response to his article! This aligns pretty closely with the some of the responses I’ve received in conversations regarding the relative homogeneity (in relation to race/class/gender roles) of the US art world. Folks get aggravated/highly defensive when confronted by discomfiting news they don’t want to have to contend with, apparently. (Yes, yes, things are better than they’ve been. No, no, they’re not good enough, not by a long shot.)

So here’s the steese: there are some awesome-looking shows showcasing women artists this spring. You don’t even need to be female to see ‘em! (And please don’t go to that “oh, feminist/identity art is so passe” place in your brain. It’s stale, condescending, and such a cop-out.) Anyway. Check out Mills next week, check out YBCA in March. Check out the two aforementioned shows at Traywick and at Queen’s Nails Annex. The mix of artists in these shows is excellent, the curators are formidable, and they’re all opening up some new conversations that are long overdue.


Mills College Art Museum, Oakland
January 16 – March 16, 2008
Opening reception: Wednesday, January 23, 5:30 – 7:30pm
curated by Marcia Tanner

Continuing its commitment to the work of women artists and curators, The Mills College Art Museum presents ‘We Interrupt Your Program‘: a group exhibition of video and new media works by fourteen emerging and mid-career female artists: Maria Antelman, Maja Bajevic, Maria Friburg, Nina Katchadourian, Marisa Olson, Julia Page, Shannon Plumb, Jean Shin, Renetta Sitoy, Julianne Swartz, Stephanie Syjuco, Claudia X Valdes, Anne Walsh, Gail Wight with Retort.

The works in ”˜We Interrupt Your Program’ intervene in, reconfigure, augment, and/or re-contextualize dominant narratives of war, power, science, technology, and gender from what are arguably distinctively female and feminist perspectives. Spanning a range of media and aesthetic strategies, the exhibition includes computer-manipulated video, digital animation, video installation, interactive sculpture, and photography. All of the artists in ”˜We Interrupt . . .’ respond to contemporary mainstream media””including network television, mass market feature films, instructional science videos, and online communication platforms such as email and chat rooms””interrogating them as restrictive vocabularies and structures that routinely exclude the female voice and point of view.
“THE WAY THAT WE RHYME: Women, Art & Politics”
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Opens March 28, 2008 and runs through June 29, 2008
curated by Berin Golonu

Organized by YBCA, this exhibition showcases the politically charged work of a new generation of women who use creativity as a form of empowerment and a means for making social change. Emphasizing performativity, collaboration and coalition building, the artworks spotlight the daring of women who unapologetically assert themselves, and project their identities out into the world to address a range of issues from the personal to the global. While the works are influenced by the feminist ideologies and activist movements of the past, including the anti-war, pro-choice and environmental movements of the 60s and 70s; the gendered, multi-cultural identity politics of the 80s; and the rebellious Riot Grrrl punk music movement of the 90s; they also speak loudly and clearly to the issues facing women right now.

Artists include: Lisa Anne Auerbach, Andrea Bowers, Nao Bustamante, Tammy Rae Carland, Vaginal Davis, Eve Fowler, Deborah Grant, MK Guth, Taraneh Hemami, Miranda July and Shauna McGarry, LTTR, Leslie Labowitz and Suzanne Lacy, Aleksandra Mir, Laurel Nakadate, Shinique Smith, subRosa, SWOON and Tennessee Jane Watson, The Counterfeit Crochet Project organized by Stephanie Syjuco, The Toxic Titties, Jessica Tully, and RiotGrrl zines from the Independent Publishing Resource Center, Portland.

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2 Responses to “where my ladies at/art?”

  1. Marcia Tanner Says:

    Dear Jennifer Wofford. THANK YOU! for your lively, thoughtful discussion of the recent resurgence of interest in art-making by women, the great PR for “We Interrupt Your Program” and the illuminating stats from Praba Pilar. You’re a wonderful writer/thinker/visual artist and I deeply appreciate your mention of “We Interrupt Your Program” on your blog. I was happy to learn of the other feminist art shows in LA last year — I only knew about WACK! which I saw. You’re right to speculate about the recent revival of interest in female/feminist art-making and the reasons behind this cultural phenomenon. I agree that feminism expression in art is far from passe. What’s fascinating is the ways in which feminist artistic practice is evolving and taking on issues beyond identity politics (although those issues are still entirely relevent and important). I hope you’ll be at the opening of “We Interrupt . . .” on Wednesday, January 23 so I can thank you in person! Thanks too for referring to me and Berin Golonu as “formidable curators.” I will put FC after my name in all future correspondence. x/Marcia

  2. admin Says:

    Hey, Marcia! What a treat to hear from you.

    “Evolving” is the key phrase, yes: it’s about damn time to push it again! And folks have been a little spineless in the backlash against identity politics in the past decade, shying away from taking sides, esp vis-a-vis the art market. My main concern is the ways in which many folks have distanced themselves from terms like “identity” and “feminism”, as if these issues make for inherently bad or marginal art. Bad art is bad art. That’s all. Some identity art was pretty bad/immature, yes. So was Cubism. So was Minimalism. So was etc etc etc…

    Yes yes, I’ll absolutely be at the opening and the after-talk. Looking forward to it very much!

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