Women' A

s cticn Coalition

, Metropolitan ,< ' protest

New York < Auseum of Art

<,1992 '

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During the late 19605 and early 70S, feminism fundamentally changed 'Contemporary art practice, critiquing its assumptions and radically altering its structures and methodologies. But

what is feminism? And, following what is feminist art'? Peggy Phelan has offered

what seems to be the most serviceable definition of feminism: "the conviction that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental category for the organization of culture. Moreover, the pattern of that organization usually favours men over women," «WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution" is predicated on the notion that gender was and remains fundamental to culture and that a contemporary understanding of the feminist in art must necessarily

look to the late 1960s and 70S, The exclamatory title of the exhibition is intended to recall the bold idealism that characterized the feminist movement during that period. Like the transfermative power of Pop art memorably chronicled in Barbara Haskell's 1984 exhibition "BLAM! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism and Performance, 1958-1964" at the Whitney Museum

of American Art, New York, the impact of feminist art has yet to be fully theorized and accepted by academic and museum institutions. Though "WACK" is not an acronym, it gestures to those of many activist groups and political communities beginning in the 1970S whose activities focused on women's issues and cultural production-including the Art Workers Coalition (AWC); Women Artists in Revolution (WAR); Women's Action Coalition (WAC); Women's

International Terrorist from Hell (WITCH); Women's Caucus for Art (WCA); and

Women, Students, and Artists for Black Art liberation (WSABAL). The violent and sexual connotations of "WACK" serve to reinforce feminism's affront to the patriarchal system, while the exhibition's conjoined subtitle is intended to acknowledge the intersection of feminism and art that is this exhibition's raison d'etre and the source of its revolutionary potential.

My ambition for "WACK!" is to make the case that feminism's impact on art of the 1970S constitutes the most influential international "movement" of any during the postwar period-

in spite or perhaps because of the fact that it seldom cohered, formally or critically, into a movement the way Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, or even Fluxus did. For that reason, I want to invoke bell hooks's proposal to resignify the term "feminist movement," to deliver

it from its nomendatoriaL fixity and reconnect it to the verb "to move" -with all the restless possibility that word cormotes," Moreover, I want to assert that feminism constitutes an ideology of shifting criteria, one influenced and mediated by myriad other factors. Whereas art movements traditionally defined charismatic individuals tended to be explicated and debated through manifestos and other writings, feminism is a relatively open-ended system that has, throughout its history of engagement with visual art, sustained an unprecedented

of internal and contained

of the artists in «WACK!" not npf·p,·~;trilv

Nonetheless, to quote Susan Hiller, "art practice with no overt political content may, never-

be able to sensitize us politically,)}! It is my contention that --whether unintentionally or cultural context to support a feminist idiom-the artists in this exhibition contributed to the movement and development of feminism in art, if only by reintwo central tenets: the personal is political, and all representation is political. Through I<:FrI:lnl"llr,(f of the received canon of feminist art, the exhibition


Susan "Anthropology into Art;

Susan Interviewed

Jacquelin" Morreau," in lIJomen's 'Images of 'Me II (london: Pandora Press, 1990), 151.

Phaldon Press, 2001), 18.

'ifemintsm ,"M;;;~"b '1'olit,e1 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press, 20(0).

publication consciously reenact feminism's legacy of inclusivity and its interrogation of cultural hierarchies of aU kinds to suggest a more complicated history of simultaneous feminisms. While the American feminist art movement is embedded from within, this international exhi-

bition of 119 writers, and thinkers moves

the familiar list of American feminist artists to include women of other

formal and critical and theoretical

of feminist art; nmAlcn,oy it is not my project here

I to to the

tices that revolutionized the and discourse of art and whose

during the tate 1960s and 70S, the United States York and Los Anl"PII'<:

particular) and Britain were centers for feminist art and activism-thanks in part to the groundbreaking work of critics including Lucy R. Lippard, Linda Nochlin, Rozsika Parker, Griselda

Pollock, Arlene Raven, and film theorist Laura Mulvey. Hn'hfO'IIClY as Marsha Meskimrnon

argues in her essay elsewhere in this book, that feminism in art emanated

from these centers through a kind of global "ripple effect" merely replicates a colonialist model (ironically reinforcing the notion of a master narrative) and does not acknowledge the importance of artists working in their own communities and/or in dialogue with other artists elsewhere. The globalized spatial model Meskimmon puts forth as an alternative recognizes that while individual practices may have initially occurred in a condition of relative isolation, they often coalesced through discourse, affinity, and relationship.

Myriad connections characterize the proliferation of feminist activity in art of the late 1960s and 70s-the movement of the movement that hooks elucidated. For example, John Baldassari invited Ulrike Rosenbach and Gina Pane to perform and teach at California Institute of the Arts and Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, respectively, though neither artist was hosted by the Feminist Art Program. Elsewhere, contemporaries and friends Zarina and Nasreen Moharnedi were equally radical as women artists working out of the hegemonic and repressive context of India; while Zarina emphasized the resistance against cultural traditions of representation by incorporating very specific references to transculturalisrn, Mohamed; manifested her urban architectonic vision through photographs and subtle abstract drawings. Within the framework of this exhibition, the practices of these two artists, who worked abstractly and from different cultural contexts, can be considered in relation to feminism, though they did not engage in the same critical terms as their Western counterparts.

For many of the artists in "WACK!," feminism often coexisted with political engagement on

other fronts such as race, and sexual orientation, which at times feminism

as the dominant discourse within which they preferred to situate their work. Here in the United

Andrea Zitt,,!

and Dissent," msrauarmn Artists Space,

Black Power and the Black Arts the

was an Australian Women's Batik

or peer but with Holland

Cotter's assertion that as interesting as they are in part because of the feminist art movement of the early 1970S.

It changed everything.?? Unlike the current generation of twenty-something women

out of graduate programs and into the professional world, for me the nomenclature of feminism has never been an issue or a problem. I attended a woman's college at the height of the Reagan era and was brainwashed by the 1980s propaganda of the career-track woman who

can have it all=-work, sexual and political Equally profound

the impact of 1990S cultural conservatism that the

doms women had the 1970S and 80S. as a curator in New York at that

I was involved McBride, Beverly ,,,,mn,,,,,

Whitney Independent

Kwon, Rita in the discourses coming out of

of and cultural difference.

Lynda BengUs pouring latex paint for an installation commissioned by the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, 1969

For me, the watershed moment was the formulation of the Women's Action Coalition (WAC) in the wake of two meta-cultural moments in New York. The first involved the Anita Hil!! Clarence Thomas debacle and the conflation of media sexism and racism that surrounded those proceedings. The second occurred around the panel discussion "Representation and Value: What Role Will the Language of Feminism Play in the Art World of the '90S?" organized at Cooper Union. An opportunity for dialogue on the subject of feminism in art criticism, the event was effectively hijacked by the meteoric ascension of Matthew Barney-a truly unique voice whose practice is deeply imprinted by feminist art. His breakthrough show at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 1991 had virtually eclipsed several other simultaneous exhibitions women artists. During the panel, all critical discussion around issues of gender and sexuality

seemed to coalesce around work and ignored the women artists who were

at the time. In my recollection, this sparked a community-wide sense of inequity and frustration.

Up the street from Barney's exhibition was a show at Blum Helman Warehouse organized by Catherine Liu called "Plastic Fantastic Lover (object a)," including such artists as Polly Apfelbaum, Angela Bulloch, Sylvie Fleury, Aki Fujiyoshi, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Rebecca Horn, Liz Lamer, Annette Messager, Rosemarie Trockel, and Zittel, among others. Ironically perhaps, in light of the fact that all eyes seemed to be on Barney at that moment, the exhibition catalogue for "Plastic Fantastic Lover" opened with the following reflection on that moment in the early 1990S:

In the contemporary art world, there is a general air of confusion that could be attributed to the fact that there are no new Masters who have appeared recently, or else the chaotic state of affairs could be the result of the fact that many people have simply stopped waiting with bated breath for the Master's appearance .... The work of the artists in this show represents an eclectic sampling of different strategies of artistic production in the absence of the Master. These artists are, each in her own way, exploring the possibilities

of worlds without an anchoring Master Signifier.s

During the early 1990S in New York, a dynamic group of artists emerging out of the Whitney program and elsewhere were, in various ways, looking to the art and artists of the 1970S feminist movement to address a host of questions about identity construction, gender, and the social inscription of space. Janine Antoni's 'Lo1)ing Care performances (1993), in which

she dragged her own dye-saturated hair across the floor, resonated with Lynda Benglis's process-

based pours which initially reacted against the heroic action-painting of

Jackson Pollock. Even Barney's work is unthinkable without that of Barbara T. Smith and Martha

/ Wilson, as well as Ulrike Ottinger's film <FreaR Orlando (1981) and Adrian Piper's Mythic Being performances l('\"7"_"7rl


Catherine 'Plastic (fantastic loutr

(object a), cat. (New York: Blum Helman

Warehouse, 1991),


Details of performance

at Anthony Gallery,

bottom left·

Ulrlk" ottinger Narzisstischer Hermaphrodit

bottom right:

3SITHTI film, color and sound


Women's Action Coalition protest at the Solomon

R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1992

Photo © 1992 Lisa Kahane, NYC

In 1992, when word spread that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's inaugural exhibition for its SoHo space would only feature the work of white male artists, WAC found a target for its first protests. The New York art world, for a moment, was focused in a very public way on its own inequities. WAC also staged demonstrations around incidences of rape, media discrimination, and anti-women's rights legislation.

Historiographically, the mid-1990S was marked by a. number of ambitious exhibitions that each addressed aspects of the legacy of feminist art. Among these were the traveling exhibition "Empty Dress: Clothing as Surrogate in Recent Art," organized by Nina Felshin in 1993 and

including male and female artists whose work dealt with clothing and the construction dered identity over two decades; and "More Than Minima!: Feminism and Abstraction in the '70S ," organized by Susan Stoops at the Rose Art Museum in 1996 and featuring Benglls,

Nancy Eva Ana Mendieta, Ree Morton, Michelle

Stuart, Dorothea Rockburne, Hannah Wilke, and Jackie Winsor. If there is any model for "WACK!,"

it "Inside An Traverse of Art of, from

Feminine," organized in 1996 by M. Catherine de Zegher for the Institute of Contemporary

Art Boston. I admire de traverse of

the shared sensibilities of women working internationally. her introduction, de Zegher



The curatorial procedure may be likened to an excavation of material traces

and fragmentary which would be recombined into new ";-Y·,h",y,,,_

or to produce new and of

rather than a linear survey with its investment in U:::d.'"U2;'iC;', structure the exhibition .... The exhibi-

artistic tlon thus addresses the

Other important exhibitions of the

by Marcia

Tucker for the New Museum of Contemporary Art; "Sense and Sensibility: Women Artists and MinimaUsm in the Nineties" for the Museum of Modem

and Politics: Judy Chicago's ':Dinner 'Party in Feminist Art History" (1996), orga-

nized by Amelia Jones for the UCLA Hammer Museum. Also worth noting is the 1994 publica-

tion of The 'Power of (feminist

Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, the first comprehensive survey of the feminist art movement in the United States.

to invoke feminist art's and romantic for

of cultural hierarchies. Rather than apologize for certain practices that are more ephemeral, less influential, or more qualitatively uneven, I chose instead to exalt the ways in which different women artists positioned themselves vis-a-vis the feminist movement, making the question of selection criteria-critical for any exhibitionmost controversial here. First and foremost, the presentation had to be visually compelling,

a powerful experience that would linger in one's visual memory. Over the course of thinking about this project, I resolved that a survey exhibition that takes to heart feminist strategies

of disrupts canon formation, and supports intentionality; and biography

could contain a wide range of that each function differently within multiple frames

For that reason, I felt some artists' roles as

were equally or more and important to FPnrpc:pnt

and organizers

A critical of my research the int,,,rr'r'\cr;,tie.n

feminist art's historical n::ucr:;,,-I\/p the 1970S was the

Ketty La Rocca

Verbum, Parala, Mot, Word, 1967


I am thinking here of many excellent exhibitions, including the Wnitecnape! Art Gallery's reconsideration of Conceptual practice

Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain, 1965-75," which included a number of artists in "WACK!" There

examples, as the

In examining the 1970S, many institutions have tended to privilege Conceptual art, somet overlooking the debate around feminist art that still brackets Conceptualism? Part of makes htstoriclzing the 19705 so complicated is the overlap of feminist practice with current impulses, evident in the work of artists such as VAllE EXPORT, Mary Kelly, Lee Lc

Ewa Partum, Adrian

Ketty La Rocca, Martha

and Sturtevant, all of whom 8

feminist concerns to bear on their

There are two issues I rethought

during the

of "WACK!" The

whether or not to include male artists. Early in the show's development, I met with

who said without hesitation that her only regret in organizing «Inside the Visible" was no induding men in her show. Her contention was that most women artists want to have work seen in an equitable situation where history is evaluated by criteria other than sc political or gender-based mandates of "the all-women group show." I fielded this with rna of the artists in "WACK!" as a way to start a conversation about their works' feminism; thanks to several tough discussions with Liti Dujourie, Hiller, Sturtevant, ot (many of whom agreed that an integrated history is the next step), I have chosen to stand the "women-only" model. I decided-and the artists overwhelmingly agreed-that, major institutional survey, the essential story of "WACK!" must be told in terms of the WOI who pioneered the movement and those who struggled to make work either within the die tates of a feminist language or in reaction and relationship to it.

The second issue I went back and forth on was that of structure. My earliest impulse t

abandon traditional installation models for survey exhibitions, which tend to highlight artists in depth, creating constellations around them. However, during a fruitful conversat Kelly questioned why women artists should not benefit from the same kinds of selection CI ria as their male counterparts. In other words, why can't women artists be represented greater depth as the work-and the contribution to issues of the exhibition's themes and I rative-demands. She was entirely right to pose this question, leading me to the potentia radical strategy of "reshuffling the deck"--of presenting an exhibition in whichconstellati of artists are in dialogue across social, political, geographic, and chronological boundaries In order to accomplish this, I created a structure in which themes were conceived as propo tions rather than definitive categories (Le., can a work exist in dialogue with those of international contexts and parallel concerns?). If an artist's work appears radically singula in nature, solitary and unresponsive to a group context, what might this mean in terms structing counterargurnents within the exhibition? Are there categories and practices resist the feminist art movement in productive ways) It is my hope that the themes will set

to multiply the possibilities for into the work. While some artists are present in

depth and in multiple themes-as befitting their contribution to feminist dtscourse-s-I attempted to present a narrative that is open-ended, elliptical, and discursive in its conside

ation of a diverse and range of The

indicate levels achievement and commitment in

feminism and art.


of Art: 1965-1975," organized by Ann Goldstein Scholars such as John Welchman, Kelli

of Jones, and Julie are d(

curated portion of "Century City: Art and

by the Tate Gallery, bracketed as one of a number of impulses in New York in the early 19705. Lucy R. Lippard's essay "Escape Attempts" in the 1995



r.cnceccuar practice and feminism as part of a general paradigm in art at that time.


Though I initially used the themes as an internal device to think about the installation, they eventually became a conceptual framework around which to structure both the exhibition and the I imagined them working in different ways. Some themes-including Family Stories, Knowledge as Power, Silence and Noise, and Social Intervention--function historically to highlight the work of artists who were attempting to articulate a distinctly feminist/activist aesthetic, while Making Art History and Speaking in Public represent strategies to subvert established art history and social conventions in the service of political commentary. Collective Impulse, Labor, and Social Sculpture group artists who explored collaborative projects as a way to decentralize authorship, experience collaborative activity as a microcosm of the larger society, and generate new non-hierarchical models of organization and production. Also concerned with the articulation of a feminine aesthetic, Abstraction, Gendered Space, and Female Sensibility attempt to carve out a space for female subjectivity within a phenomenological framework. The body is represented in Body Trauma, Body as Medium, Gender Performance, and Goddess as the prima materia for explorations of physical, psychological, and spiritual experience, as well as sexual identity. While the works in Pattern and Assemblage share certain

formal color, texture, and ornament-they are also connected to Body

Trauma in suggesting the psychological effect of layering and fragmentation. The artists

in and and Autophotography used formal devices such as seriality to tnvesti-

gate the dynamics of picturing oneself and their experience of objectification.

I am deeply grateful to all of the catalogue essayists who dared approach this contested territory with freshness and rigor. They include new scholars as well as some whose fields of study have led them to consider feminist art from unexpected perspectives. After more than a year of preparation, punctuated by numerous individual and group meetings, I was

initially surprised at the eclecticism-few wrote to assignment, and many chose

to discuss artists whose work is not included in the exhibition. I concluded that something about the subject of feminist art inspires a healthy sense of expansiveness, resistance, and subversion; rather than reject this as a threat to the sanctity of curatorial selections, I decided to embrace the opportunity for internal critique that these texts afford. However far afield they may take the reader, they continue to gesture to the possibility of other narratives and other histories that may be written about this subject and period. While "WACK!"'s inclusions and exclusions will surely be the subject of debate, it is my hope that the exhibition will lead to a more expansive consideration of feminism's impact on art, throughout the 1970S to today.