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.