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Friday, March 23, 2007

Wedded Bliss

posted by on March 23 at 10:54 AM

With “Wack!” in LA and “Global Feminisms” in NY, there has been a rash of writing lately about feminism and art, but most of it I’ve found disappointing. Why is this so hard to write about?

Then come Roberta and Jerry, of course. (Smith and Saltz, that is, of the NYT and Village Voice respectively, husband and wife.)

Roberta is smooth, personal, critical, and level-headed, and it’s hard to be all of those at once when you’re dealing with such an enormous and loaded subject. She doesn’t have to declare herself a feminist; she just, plainly, is one. She smartly interrogates the category of “feminist art,” and argues subtly that the Brooklyn exhibition sidesteps this basic question. She points out the essentialist, body-centricism of much of the work, in contrast to the focus on digital, disembodied media instead of painting or sculpture. (I can’t wait to see the show in April.)

Here she is, taking it home:

But feminism is not a style, or a formal approach. It is a philosophy, an attitude and a political instrument. It is more important than Pop, Minimalism or Conceptual art because it is by its very nature bigger than they are, more far-reaching and life-affecting. In addition feminism is not of itself an aesthetic value. It is an idea that can assume an organic force in some artists’ work, but others just pay it lip service without much exertion or passion. …

After the press releases proclaiming a “museum within a museum,” the smallness of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is surprising. But perhaps it will become unnecessary: it will certainly never be able to accommodate all the art, by women as well as men, that has feminist consciousness somewhere in its DNA. The word feminism will be around as long as it is necessary for women to put a name on the sense of assertiveness, confidence and equality that, unnamed, has always been granted men.

And then there’s Jerry’s review of Rachel Harrison’s NY show, written with a velocity and urgency you’d never see in the NYT, but with that same engagement with larger subjects that marks Roberta’s work.

Her current work is particularly prickly when it comes to the subject of men. This hits you before you even walk in the door. Harrison’s exhibition is sarcastically titled after O.J.’s un-televised confessional special, If I Did It—as if to say, “Only a man who’s a probable murderer could come up with such a cocky title.” Here, Harrison, who at 41 has slowly become one of the better makers of walk-around sculpture working today, bitch-slaps Simpson and at the same time implicates herself in some crime. In this case, she’s immersing herself in two forms in apparent crisis—men and autonomous sculpture. …

Harrison obviously has divided feelings about sculpture and memorializing men. On the one hand, she lovingly made these “guys” with a very sensuous, attentive touch. On the other, she’s pointing at how relatively rare and maybe old-fashioned stand-alone medium-sized sculpture is. Indeed, nowadays museums and galleries are brimming with atrium-and-room-filling installations of stuff. Harrison is acknowledging that the form she’s using is considered conservative and passé. Yet, like Amy Sillman who approaches painting similarly, Harrison evinces a real passion for tradition. Along with lots of other contemporary artists, Harrison and Sillman love art; they’re not arguing with it as postmodernists or casting themselves as somehow against it. They continually contest and question the forms and structures of art but they also use artists whose work has either been deemed too well-known or tapped-out to tinker with. They remind us that just because certain movements and artists go out of fashion doesn’t mean they can’t still yield aesthetic pay dirt. Their work is a further indication that what might be called the “Oppositional Aesthetics” of late postmodernism, the boring binary idea that one thing always has to negate another, is finally—and may I say thankfully—waning.

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There is no feminist aesthetic, but there can be feminist aesthetics. Just sayin'.

Posted by annie | March 23, 2007 1:23 PM

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