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Feature | winter 2007

Home at Last
Feminist art moves into the spotlight this year, with two major exhibitions and a housewarming for "The Dinner Party"

Martha Rosler's photo collage
Martha Rosler's photo collage "Native Girls (Jumping Janes)".

“Be careful what you wish 40 years for,” says Judy Chicago.

The famed feminist artist isn’t complaining, just noting all the hard work that’s gone into a remarkable occasion: This spring, her iconic 1979 art piece “The Dinner Party” will be permanently enshrined at the Brooklyn Museum.

And that’s not all. “The Dinner Party” will serve as centerpiece for the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Yes, an elite American art institution—Greek-pillared portico and all—has recognized an art genre that, over the past several decades, has been too often disparaged and too rarely feted. Moreover, the Sackler Center will also showcase the exhibition “Global Feminisms,” opening March 23—a survey of 86 women artists from nearly 50 countries who carry feminist concerns into their work.

Feminist Art Calendar 2007
A selection of some of the great shows and events that will be happening this year.

As if that were still not enough, the exhibition “Wack! Art of the Feminist Revolution” will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles on March 4, unearthing the roots and shoots of international feminist art from 1965 to 1980.

“What’s happening in 2007 is thrilling,” says Chicago of the two big-ticket feminist art shows, plus a plethora of smaller sister shows glittering in their wake as part of a national Feminist Art Project (see Feminist Art Calendar [link]).

"Self Portrait with Pickle Jar" by Austrian painter Maria Lassnig.

The idea of feminist art as a defined practice didn’t emerge until the early 1970s in the U.S., and later in other parts of the world, with the work and theorizing of women such as Chicago, who founded/cofounded feminist art programs at two colleges and then at The Woman’s Building in Los Angeles. Feminist artists politicized their concerns through their art as well as their actions, and brought to the fore new media—particularly performance art and video—while reclaiming and validating traditional “crafts” as artistic expression.

“A lot of the [early] feminist consciousness-raising groups were formed around art,” points out Connie Butler, curator of the “Wack!” show, “and many of the artists were politically active—protesting, writing.”
Says Judy Chicago, “I think [the Sackler Center] will inspire a whole new generation of feminist art. I would joke with Elizabeth [Sackler, the feminist philanthropist who funded the project] that when it opens, you’ll be surprised how many women who never wanted to associate with feminism will say, ‘Oh no, I’m a feminist artist, I’ve always been a feminist artist!’”

To read the rest of this article, pick up the new issue of Ms., sure to be a collector's item, available on newsstands nationwide. Next time, don't miss out - join the Ms. community today and receive a year of the nation's premier feminist magazine delivered to your door.

Michele Kort is senior editor at Ms.