7.01.2008

Feminist Art at the MoMA?

We all remember Jerry Saltz's astute criticism of MoMA for the pitiful number of women artists on display in their permanent collection. Printed after a summer of blowout women’s art exhibitions that prompted Nancy Princenthal in Art in America to call 2007 “a banner year for feminism in the visual arts,” such an exposé made MoMA look rather foolish and behind the times, at least in my mind. However, with full awareness of their cultural hegemony, the MoMA seemed to shrug off Saltz’s words with little effort (or at least get away with ignoring the critique completely)…or did it?

Let me take a step back for a moment. Having moved to the city recently, I’ve been making the standard museum and gallery rounds. So naturally I made my way uptown to see the Olafur Eliasson show before it closed (who doesn’t want to see some Smithson and James Turrell slickly rehashed?). However, what peaked my interest was not what I came to see, but instead a room tucked away in the contemporary galleries devoted to Sigalit Landau, a contemporary female Israeli artist. The exhibition is part of MoMA’s Projects Series, founded in 1971 as a forum for young emerging artists. This mini-exhibition consists of three remarkable video works and a number of salt-encrusted lamp-like sculptures. The most recognizable of the videos is Barbed Hula (2000) featured in Global Feminisms. However the most memorable is DeadSee (2005) in which a raft-like spiral of whole and half-eaten watermelons floats on the Dead Sea and slowly unfurls. The artist, locked in the center, is spun around and around until the watermelon coil is unraveled, leaving her body exposed. This incredible body of work can be seen here.

If MoMA’s “all boys club” reputation is valid, then what is work by an artist in Global Feminisms doing there?

It's worth noting that Landau isn’t the only feminist artist currently on display. In the contemporary galleries reside a powerful Nancy Spero, a visceral set of Lynda Benglis sculptures, and an incredible Louise Bourgeois along with a number of other works by female artists either explicitly or implicitly feminist.
Is MoMA finally jumping on the bandwagon? Is MoMA finally heeding the Guerrilla Girls’ warnings? Or is it temporarily paying lip service to the pressure to show artists from more diverse backgrounds?

While Eliasson still dominates, perhaps this is a step in the direction of positive change. Perhaps this is also a sign that for better or for worse feminist art is less of a radical movement and is gradually being integrated into major art historical institutions…but that’s an issue I’ll take up another day.

4 comments:

said...

definately one of the most remarkable things i saw there all day.
amongst others was Julie Mehretu...
most of my favs are all gals.

marie said...

worth noting too that moma probably is not simply paying lip service-- exhibitions, even smaller ones like the project series, are planned many months, sometimes years in advance. so though the timing of the saltz article makes it looks as though moma is breaking under pressure, i think it's safe to say that they are not.

MJ said...

hmm. point taken. thanks for the response!

Virgil Disgr4ce said...

Two observations:

1) Haha, rehashing indeed. I really liked the Eliasson exhibit, but yes, I agree that (Smithson || Turrell) > Eliasson.

2) The best part of feminist art is the boobs.