Broadsheet, The Blog

Two Lady Artists with Bees in Their Bonnets

25 May 2007

Late To The (Dinner) Party, Yet Again

You’ve read the reviews, the critiques of the critiques, so we ask you – isn’t it time you actually went and saw the show? Yes, we're talking about Global Feminisms, AGAIN! You wanna make somethin' of it?

We’ve heard a variety of opinions, in the aforementioned New Yorker, of course from The New York Times, as well as New York Magazine, City Journal and a host of blogs, the most intelligent and in-depth writing coming from John Haber.

But whether conservative or "liberal," snarky or sophisticated, they all ultimately come down on the same side, critiquing the exhibition and its curatorial objectives for nearly the same reasons, namely, that this is a monolithic view of feminism, focusing almost exclusively on women and their bodies as the element in art that distinguishes itself as “feminist.” Such an essentialist view of women, with some notable exceptions (discussed extensively in the above-mentioned reviews) glosses over the broader range of artistic practices also informed by feminism.

As someone who is not afraid of "the F word," it pains me to not like this show. There were a host of interesting comments and complaints on the museum's own website, many echoing my own, simply regarding the uncomfortable layout of the closed and claustrophobic galleries. My overriding feeling was one of being in a graduate school exhibition where women, with Audre Lorde’s prohibition against using the master’s tools echoing in their heads, eschew sculpture, and especially painting, in favor of “media,” that is, video and photography, to critique the public images of women that dominate the cultural landscape in which the appearance of the female body nearly always signifies “sex.”

At its inception, this was a very radical approach, but decades on, despite the persistence of sexism in the culture and the art world, like abstraction, it’s starting to feel like a stylistic option. Again, I don't question its relevance or importance as an outgrowth of second-wave feminism’s exploration of new forms, including performance and installation, but there has been an abundance of complex and interesting painting, sculpture, drawing and installation in the third-wave as women returned to these media (although plenty never left).

If this is to be the first in a series of contemporary work at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center that will look at a range of feminisms, then please let us know! Using a title as all-encompassing sounding as “Global Feminisms” gives a sense of expansiveness and completeness that contradicts the show’s reality. The “global” moniker feels particularly misleading, for while the artists cut a wide geographic swath, there is an inherent level of privilege in attending art school in any hemisphere and the resulting “cultural production,” is dishearteningly homogeneous, employing the same sort of “strategies” that we are used to seeing with regularity in New York.

But maybe we’re just spoiled.

-That Broad

Labels: , , , ,

08 May 2007

Lady Artists, Please Choose To Be Either Smart or Pretty

Would it kill the
New Yorker to find someone under 60 to write about contemporary art? Their hiring of Sasha Frere-Jones to cover rock music almost gives us hope. Almost. But reading that fuddy-duddy Peter Schjeldahl is so tiring! It doesn't matter how good a writer he is if he refuses to even consider the possibility that there might be good art being made right now, besides that made by (wait for it... no, you can't be serious) John Currin.

We're not saying that the Global Feminisms show over at the Brooklyn Museum is so brilliant or anything (more on that soon), but Schjeldahl's response in the New Yorker was a caricature of the reviewer as crusty old curmudgeon. However, we must give the devil his due: just as his knee-jerk dismissal of pretty much all idea-based art makes us want to lock him in a small room with a giant Jenny Holzer L.E.D. for eternity, some of his musings are actually making us think. Here he is in his 4/9/07 review, the least interesting part of which briefly addressed the actual art:

... The major factor [in the stalemate between the apparently opposing goals of individual female successes and collective feminist aims] is a natural antagonism between school-rooted institutions and the commercial art world, in which an individual's success distances her from the ranks of collective purpose. The market selects art that people like to look at, whatever it may be about. This is bound to exasperate partisans of any particular aboutness, whose goal is not case-by-case approbation but blanketing justice. The conflict cannot be resolved, because the terms on the two sides - politics versus taste, virtue versus pleasure, aggrieved conviction versus disposable wealth - sail past each other. The agon's usual form is an assault, by the party of politics, on the complacency of art lovers. It draws force from the unexceptionable truth that justice is more important than artistic quality. [...] Of course, no movement will admit the inferiority of its art. It will redefine the field to make pleasure appear to be at one with virtue. Many art lovers, for their part, like to imagine a socially salubrious tendency in their takings of joy. Both are wrong.

Genius and vileness can cohabit an artist's soul as comfortably as mediocrity and rectitude...

On that last sentence, um, Duh. But let's take that first paragraph one idea at a time because there are a whole lot of ideas in there. Sometimes it seems that Schjeldahl is just enjoying his lovely sentences so much, he lets them go on to say whatever they want even when they don't add up to anything coherent.

Firstly, can he be right about the unresolvable conflict between individual female artists and feminism? It sounds like a compelling narrative, but I don't think it makes any sense. When Dana Schutz or Cecily Brown are called geniuses for their work, although neither of their work is considered feminist, the cause of women artists in general is advanced by "genius" being pried open to include more female practitioners and this changes the way women artists in general are viewed by collectors, curators, critics, dealers and the public.

On another major point, most art-lovers agree (and certainly it is fashionable to say) that political art usually sucks, even when one agrees with the politics. But I would argue that there is no more bad political art than there is bad painting, it's just that when political art crashes and burns it's somehow so much more painful to watch because the work, its high-minded goals, and its failure are so obvious.

Schjeldahl's also wrong about the marketplace not responding to art with an agenda: just because some conceptual art may be bad doesn't mean it's not breaking auction records along with some equally bad painting. And does he really mean to assert that the art market responds solely and purely to quality?

Most importantly, Schjeldahl's brush is much too broad by the end; his pretty sentences are lulling his sharp mind with their siren songs. In those lovely pairs of opposing forces (genius/rectitude, pleasure/virtue, taste/politics, disposable wealth/aggrieved conviction) he inexplicably fails to allow the possibility for genius and rectitude, or virtue and pleasure, to coexist, however rarely it may happen. Really, where else should an artist with any sense of morality aim? Or is he actually implying that it is not possible?

- This Broad

Labels: , ,