This morning Ben Davis published a piece on Artnet entitled “Why Are There Still So Few Successful Women Artists?” Thanks to Ben Davis for addressing this issue and for his constant focus on important political issues in the art world.
As I wrote to him this morning, so much to say and so little time to say it if I want to get a few paintings done before I have to go back to my day job as an underpaid adjunct (Davis mentions the role of practical bread and butter issues and economic inequities for women as in some sense replacing Linda Nochlin’s historical focus on women artists’ earlier lack of access to academic training.)
Davis begins with the important primary question: “What will it take to finally put an end to sexism in art?” He questions the value of strategies of “counting,”, most recently used by Maura Reilly in her ARTnews text “Taking the Measures of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes”, and he takes care to try to bracket what we mean by “success” for an artist today.
I’ve written so much about feminism–most recently this previous post spurred by conflicting messages coming from the art world, between the sudden interest in the work of older women artists and the insulting absurdity of the Sackler Center giving one of its First Feminist awards to Miss Piggy, and earlier this year, Amnesiac Return Amnesiac Return, published in Kara Rooney’s Critic’s Page “A Feminist Response: Gender Games and the Art Machine” in the September 2014 issue of the Brooklyn Rail. I am very grateful to Davis for linking to my piece which he titled “Amnesiac Returns,” but as I wrote to him this morning, the political point of the title and its humor is in the repetition without punctuation, no plural. At the end of that text I explained the title’s genesis and significance: “The repetition in my title reflects the fact that in 1992, for a special issue of the art journal Tema Celeste dedicated to “The Question of Gender in Art,” I wrote a short essay entitled “Amnesiac Return.” I thought of the same title for this piece before realizing that it sounded familiar—because, in fact, I had used it before.” If and when I write another piece and am tempted to title it Amnesiac Return, I may indeed have amnesia by that point, or will title it to the power of three.
My point is that one writes and one writes and one asks why the situation of women artists (and beyond that of women generally) is fundamentally resistant to change despite the paradox of some visible change, and one asks the question again and again. And yet even that discussion, and the vast and important area of scholarship and theorization applied to the work of women artists and to gender representation, does not ultimately penetrate the art market and nor even the upper strata of academia which may have moved on to newer concerns.
My point is I could go on and on.
So today in response to Ben’s piece, I just want to contrast his article to Peter Schjeldahl’s review in the New Yorker of Albert Oehlen’s paintings. The beginning of one paragraph in that review seems paradigmatic: “Not for nothing is Oehlen a mighty influence on younger artists, showing them the rewards in freedom that may follow upon a willing sacrifice of propriety. (Witness, apart from outright imitators, the devilish impetuosities of Josh Smith, Joe Bradley, Oscar Murillo, and others in a recent survey at the Museum of Modern Art, “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.”) Testosterone testosterone testosterone bad boys bad boys bad boys patrilineage patrilineage patrilineage (for that you have to read the paragraph before, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, bla bla–for some reason this reminds me of one of my favorite book reviews in the Times several years ago, about a book a woman wrote about her dog, a German Shepherd as I recall, who spent the day out and about in her neighborhood in Cambridge, Ma., about how she decided to follow him in his unleashed peregrinations. She observed that his main occupation in life was to go to nearly impossible physical lengths to piss as high up as possible on telephone poles and trees so, she deduced, other dogs would know he was a really big dog.
When I read about the auction value of women artists, when I read Kenny Schacter’s devastating reports on the art market, the most recent being “Kenny Schacter on Why Art Basel left him Mentally and Physically Damaged,” when people suddenly “discover” some woman artist that women artists have known about for decades, and when so many young women still are drawn to using their naked bodies in their work because as the Guerrilla Girls ask, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” I see how little has changed in some respects.
Of course, and it is a kind of a triumph of feminism and feminist art there are tons of women artists active now around the world, and they are successful to a much greater extent than the moment before I entered the art world at the beginning of the feminist art movement, but the world I live in, where Louise Bourgeois was a great artist the minute I learned about her work from Lucy Lippard’s writings in From the Center and from seeing a drawing show at Max Hutchinson Gallery, when she was not yet world famous and a fetish, where the work of countless women artists including some of the artists who have recently been the subject of a wave of articles about older women artists (does 100 count as old enough I wonder?) was a central part of my image world, I mean these works are fundamental building blocks of how I see the world, not to mention of course what art is about for me (deep engagement with form, materiality, art history, politics, politics of representation and abstraction, discursivity–art, you know, not product), that work, that image world of women artists is of absolutely no interest to the men who make, promote and buy the work of the guys drooled over in Schjeldhal’s review. No interest? No, I mean it is invisible. It does not exist except for these little windows of fashion for old ladies who won’t be around much longer to inconveniently have something to say.
When I posted these thoughts on Facebook earlier today, artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy wrote in a comment: “My first day of grad school at The Ohio State University I walked into the sculpture building and saw a list pinned to the wall for the undergrads of “sculptors they should know.” All of them male, and most of them over 50. I started writing names on it and the other female grads joined in – by the end of the term the entire page was covered with women sculptors. This was in 2010, btw. 2010.”
And meanwhile, and I think this is important to note, I’m putting up the postcard wall that marks a space as my studio, and all the works are by male artists, mostly pre-1600, because I live in a world in which art history was first presented to me as male, the women artists’ works that are so important to me reside in my slide/image collection and in my mind. My point is that any woman interested in art has absorbed and paid attention to work by male artists, you would be an ignoramus if you didn’t and you’d be cutting yourself off from a major part of the history of civilization, which I claim as my heritage no matter who did it, but the connection doesn’t flow the other way
Just a short message from Venus which will certainly never get over to Mars, and now I am going to try to get into the studio.