Kathleen Hannah was first-wave feminism, for me. I took all the requisite women’s studies classes when I was in college, but it wasn’t until I started listening to bands like Bikini Kill (and later, Le Tigre) that I ever felt any kind of emotional connection to feminism and its larger history. So I pretty much revere Kathleen Hannah and I lap up every interview and what not with her that I come across. Watch this video, and take note: Ms. Hannah doesn’t need to get all pretentious with the theory (though she totally respects it, too) to be crystal clear about who she is and what she’s all about. Also note: you can talk like a Valley Girl and still be super fucking smart. Kathleen makes some important points about the dangers of mistaking bullshit insecurities-cum-personal politics for authentic politics. So true. And also has some interesting things to say about zines vs. blogs, and the state of female political leadership today.
Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Stacia Yeapanis as our latest guest with her post, “My Feminism is 80s Teen Movie Favored”. Stacia is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist who’s first monograph was recently published as part of The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Midwest Photographers Publication Project this past spring.
My Feminism is 80s Teen Movie Flavored
Not many people remember the teen movie The Legend of Billie Jean. Expected to be a box office hit in the summer of 1985, it disappointed producers, earning a measly $3.5 million, and has yet to be released on DVD. This movie is why I still own a VCR.
The plot is simple: Billie Jean Davy is a teenage girl from a trailer park, who becomes an outlaw after being involved in an accidental shooting. She goes on the run with her friends and cuts her hair and becomes a celebrity hero seeking justice. The tagline, according to IMDB, is “When you’re seventeen, people think they can do anything to you. Billie Jean is about to prove them wrong.”
I was 7, not 17, when it was first released. I can’t remember exactly when or where I watched it for the first time. I remember that I believed the main conflict was between kids and adults. There’s no doubt the movie was marketed to the MTV generation. The theme song, Invincible by Pat Benatar, had already made it to #10 before the movie was released. I probably related to the movie because I was a kid and because life constantly feels unfair when you’re a kid.
But when I re-watched The Legend of Billie Jean at age 31, it was obvious to me that this overlooked teen movie is about more than a rebellious teen’s sense that her parents aren’t fair because they make her clean her room or get off the phone and do her homework. For me, it’s one of my earliest feminist texts (and a scathing critique of capitalism, but that’s another post). Watching it was like having myself and my experience of the world mirrored back to me. I don’t mean that I’ve ever cut my hair short or been an outlaw or slept at an abandoned mini golf course. I just mean that I must have learned something watching this movie over and over again. And it’s something I value. Read more
This week, Jana Leo’s Rape New York, subtitled An Open Archive, went on view at Invisible Exports in New York City. The exhibition consists of boxes of photographs, documents, transcripts and other material relating to the artists’ rape seven years ago.
The gallery’s press release describes the project as follows:
The documents assembled here, seven years in the making, accompany the release of (Leo’s) book RAPE NEW YORK. The archive consists of photographs from her emergency visit to the hospital, police reports, crime scene photographs, notes from her therapist, as well as records from the civil suit and other assorted items and documents related to the rape and the legal case that followed, none of which can be reproduced, or even reviewed without the victims’ consent. The documents are kept in organized boxes to be retrieved by the archivist, not displayed on the gallery walls. The archive is not presented to the visitor; instead, each guest must fully identify oneself (photo ID is required), and request materials from the archivist. This way, the visitor takes responsibility for what’s requested, making private again what was made public by Leo-the latest revolution in a cycle of public and private that began with the rape itself.
The outlines of Leo’s project recalls that of a number of 1970’s era feminist works dealing with traumatic exposure–Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (link is to a video of the performance) and 1968 film Rape come foremost to mind–but the heart of Leo’s piece seems to lie within the viewer’s decision to take responsibility, in a public way, for looking at material that is private in the deepest sense of the word. Does the artist’s complicity in the exposure negate its voyeuristic qualities? Does the decision to study Leo’s rape archives signal compassion, curiosity, or cruelty on the part of individual viewers? Perhaps, a bit of all three.
Lately I’ve been mulling over a bunch of questions that essentially revolve around blogging and personal responsibility. Yesterday I came across mention of Leo’s show in a brief blurb on one of the art news blogs. I initially decided not to reblog the item, because there was only minimal information about the show itself. It felt sensationalistic, somehow, to just shoot the item out there once again without providing any further context. As coincidence would have it, this morning I randomly came across Caitlin Roper’s lengthy and fascinating interview with Jana Leo on Bomb’s blog, which contains a few reproductions of images and documents from the archive. Roper’s piece, I think, provides enough background context to give Leo’s project meaning even to those who can’t see the show in person.
To be honest, I feel somewhat relieved that I don’t live in New York and therefore don’t have to decide whether or not I want to visit Leo’s show and read her archives. I have an easy out, this time. But I did have to make the decision about whether and how I should write about it, particularly in the zippily superficial context of a blog post. So in that sense, I am still a participant in Leo’s project, still accountable for my decision to engage it from a distance in the manner that I have.
Here’s a last, chilling postscript. Eva Rhodes (nee Eva Majlata), the unnamed woman who was the subject of Ono’s aforementioned film Rape, was bludgeoned to death in 2007 by one of her employees, set on fire, and buried not far from an animal sanctuary she had established in Hungary. Sukhdev Sandhu writes movingly about Rhodes’ death, and Ono’s film, here.
On Facebook, Saltz charged The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) with practicing a form of “gender-based apartheid,” based on the paucity of work by women artists hanging on the walls of the 4th and 5th floors of the Museum (the pre-1970 galleries). Here’s what he wrote:
Of the 383 works currently installed on the 4th and 5th floors of the permanent collection, only 19 are by women; that’s 4%. There are 135 different artists installed on these floors; only nine of them are women; that’s 6%. MoMA is telling a story of modernism that only it believes. MoMA has declared itself a hostile witness. Why?
The subsequent discussions that take place in the comments are really interesting and if you aren’t already aware of this whole brouhaha and want to be, I recommend you skim through it all and join in.
I have to admit I have mixed responses to the issue, as a post-post feminist or whatever the hell it is that I am. I think what I am, actually, is the lazy type of feminist who never thinks to count how many works by women artists are hanging on the walls of the museum shows I attend, including during my first visit to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing. So last week I went back again to take another look, and to get better sense of how the Modern Wing stacks up when it comes to issues of gender representation. (Note that due to lack of time I didn’t take account of the work in the Architecture and Design galleries).
On the third floor containing the European and Modern Art galleries, I counted just four works by the following female artists: Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, Suzanne Duchamp, Nathalija Gontcharova and Leonora Carrington. On the 2nd floor gallery featuring Contemporary Art from 1945-1960 there was Joan Mitchell‘s gorgeous City Landscape from 1955.
(So-called Modern works by women in the Modern Wing are kind of tricky to account for, because the period is divided multiple ways, between works exhibited in the Modern Wing and those installed in the American galleries in the main building, where, for example, a number of works by Georgia O’Keeffe are installed).
Unless I missed it, no female artist has been given monographic (i.e. dedicated gallery or grouping) treatment in the Modern Wing in the way that Robert Ryman, Bruce Nauman, Robert Gober, Kerry James Marshall, Mel Bochner, Constantin Brancusi and several others have. The closest was Eva Hesse sharing a gallery with Richard Serra in the Contemporary galleries (There are two sculptures and a drawing by Hesse here).
Women fare better on the post-1960, Contemporary side of things, as would be expected. Works by Mary Heilman, Ellen Gallagher, Sherrie Levine, Marlene Dumas, Cindy Sherman, Sue Williams, Cady Noland and Barbara Kruger hang in proximity to one another. In a gallery of contemporary paintings, there’s one work each by Margherita Manzelli and Lisa Yuskavage. Elsewhere in the Contemporary galleries, there’s a Vija Celmins near Sylvia Plimack Mangold‘s In Memory of My Father, an Agnes Martin and a Hanne Darboven (I actually missed the Darboven myself, but Lisa Dorrin mentioned it in the podcast and its listed as being on view on the AIC’s collections page).
The first floor photography gallery has another largish cluster of female artists, including works by Jeanne Dunning, Barbara Kruger, Liz Deschenes (2 works, including one that’s part of Gaylen Gerber’s piece), Rineke Dijkstra, Zoe Leonard, Diane Arbus, and Patty Carroll (also part of Gerber’s piece).
That’s my tally of female artists currently on view the Modern Wing. (Though I tried to be meticulous, I might have missed one or two works–please let me know if I did). So, you know, overall not great, but not completely dismal either. Their representation of women artists in the pre-1960 Modern & European gallery needs beefing up, but the great thing about permanent collection hangings is that they can always be altered and revised, along with the stories they tell.
But the question that’s really on my mind is this one: how much is “good enough?” Do male/female ratios always need to be close to 50/50 to get it right, or can the impact of female artists be measured in other ways, for example in the space and overall presence a female artist’s work is given in a gallery installation (a la the juxtaposition of Hesse and Serra)?
I’m curious about what readers here think about “the female issue” when it comes to permanent collections, in Chicago particularly. I’m especially interested in what female art students (if there are any reading this) may have to say – are you thinking about male/female ratios when you cruise the Modern Wing? Does it bother you that so few women appear in the pre-1960s galleries, or do you derive satisfaction from their collection in other ways?
Feel free to discuss your experiences at the MCA as well.
**Above image credit: Suzanne Duchamp, Broken and Restored Multiplication, 1918-19. Art Institute of Chicago.
Here’s what’s got my attention, web-wise, so far this week:
*San Diego Museum of Art director Derrick R. Cartwright appointed director of the Seattle Art Museum.
*Art Institute of Chicago director James Cuno hopes to initiate massive fundraising drive for free Museum admission.
*No Boys Allowed: yearlong exhibition at the Pompidou Center is for women-only.
*Scope Basil is only three weeks ago away, and still ‘aint got no permit.
*”I spent a year asking why the contemporary art bubble was the biggest, bubbliest bubble of them all”: Ben Lewis’ The Great Contemporary Art Bubble preview clip on YouTube ( ART21’s Ben Street has a funny post on the film too).
*Speaking of Twitter, it could be coming to a t.v. near you.
*Beautiful/Decay needs YOU to help pick the theme for its next limited-edition publication. Winner gets a copy of the book. For free!