VENICE, Calif. — Throughout history, women have found ways to collectively redefine themselves outside the constrictions of patriarchal society. One such way is through the formation of women’s art collectives, safe spaces in which communities of women can gather together, free to discuss issues relevant to them and without the almost certain mansplaining and increased potential for sexual harassment that comes from working with men. Currently on view at the Social and Public Art Resource (SPARC) in Venice, California, is The Box Project, an exhibition that honors the feminist impulse toward community in the arts and includes the work of 76 women artists working in three collectives across three different countries.
The circumstances that paved the way for The Box Project began by chance. After the closing of her two-person exhibition with Carmen Mariscal in Paris, Mercedes Gertz accompanied Mariscal to the Salonistas, a salon of women artists founded by Rebecca Dolinsky in 2015, of which Mariscal was a member. Inspired by what she saw, and with Mariscal’s and Dolinsky’s blessing, Gertz recreated a similar salon of women artists upon her return to Los Angeles. Initially a group of five women meeting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s C+M coffee shop once a month, the group quickly grew by word of mouth. During this time, Gertz spoke with artist Haydee Rovirosa in Mexico City, who started a satellite salon there.
When Gertz told Dolinsky and Mariscal about her group’s expansion and Rovirosa’s new Mexico City collective, an excited Dolinsky began brainstorming a way in which the three groups could collaborate. Gertz said by email, “Rebecca took the initiative to send us small gifts in matchbox-sized containers to the salons in both Los Angeles and Mexico City. In response to this generosity, the women of the salons in the other two cities sent gifts in return.” This exchange and the communal “spark” of creativity it engendered (puns unfortunately intended), ultimately became The Box Project at SPARC.
No longer containable to a matchbox, the objects and ideas that flowed between women across borders drawn by men grew to include artworks as varied as a large tapestry titled “She’s so Crafty” by artist Katie Seton woven from, among other things, a shirt emblazoned with the words “Nasty Woman” to a found suitcase titled “Letting go to Become” that reminded artist Mariana Ramirez of her mother. Gertz says that “At the time, there was no expectation that any of the material would be archived or displayed to the public,” but when word of what was happening reached Judith F. Baca, director and co-founder of SPARC, she offered the Durón Gallery at SPARC to showcase the collective effort.
In an art world that shows preference to male artists and caters to the tastes of (mostly) male collectors, many women artists count largely on each other for a consistent audience. The Box Project at SPARC is in keeping with the organization’s mission to “examine what we choose to memorialize through public art… [and] to provide empowerment through participatory processes to residents and communities excluded from civic debate.” It is just one of many collective efforts keeping interests alive outside the one percent of the world which dominates the fine art market and presumes, incorrectly, to decide what is and is not good taste.
The Box Project continues at Social and Public Art Resource (SPARC) (685 Venice Blvd., Venice, California) through January 18.