Art

Can You Name Three Women Artists?

The movie poster for "!Women Art Revolution" (via moviepostr.com)(click to enlarge)

Out of the 55 artists represented at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, 26 were women. While that’s still less than half, it’s certainly better than the days when only one or two members of the “fairer” sex fought to be included. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s new documentary !Women Art Revolution, now playing at IFC Center in Greenwich Village, compiles interviews spanning 40 years that document the tumultuous battle women artists fought for proper representation in the world of galleries and museums.

The film begins with casual interviews of bystanders outside of museums, pressured into answering a simple question: can you name three women artists? The footage shows each person struggling to answer, all of them grasping at straws only to name surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The position of women artists is still grim, but as the movie charges forward we’re made aware of how much progress has been achieved in the last half of the twentieth century.

!Women Art Revolution accurately captures the highpoints and lowpoints in the turning point of women’s art history in the late sixties and seventies. Judy Chicago waxes nostalgic on the first Feminist Art Program she established at CalArts as well as the censorship battle in Congress over her seminal work “The Dinner Party” (1974-79). Marcia Tucker speaks of her rise to the first major curatorial position held by a woman at the Whitney and her subsequent expulsion from the institution, culminating in her creation of the New Museum. The Guerrilla Girls, still donning their simian masks, recount their exploits of penis counting and inequity-reporting in museums and galleries that continues today.

One of the most famous Guerilla Girls posters (via guerrillagirls.com) (click to enlarge)

The actual mechanics of the film suffer from low production values and a somewhat unimaginative editing style of sloppily linked together interview footage, but the film’s merits emerge from its politics, not its craft. And while the actual call to action dictated by activist art is typically exhausted within the work itself, !Women Art Revolution is not just a self-contained documentary whose message is lost when the viewer exits the theater. Hershman Leeson takes advantage of the expansive and accessible technologies that facilitate the documentation of history and, more importantly, the call to action. The entire collection of interviews included in the film are archived on Stanford University’s website and www.rawwar.org serves as a democratically run online gallery of work that documents contributions to the history of women’s art.

The day when at least half of the artists represented in museums, galleries and biennials are women is probably sooner than we think. But while prejudices and bias still exist in the art market, we can continue to push the boundaries and question the hegemony that still holds some work back. As we continue to fight the battle, though, the least we can do is name three women artists. After seeing !Women Art Revolution, that won’t be much of a problem.

!Women Art Revolution is now playing at the IFC Center through June 16. For showtimes/tickets click here.

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