Saturday, March 24, 2007

Art Review | Global Feminisms

"Ecstatic, Hysteric, and Other Saintly Ladies" by Anna Baumgart (2004)

"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." Roberta Smith, NYT

Roberta Smith, NYT Art Critic, has reviewed the new exhibition Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum (coming right on the heels of WACK! at the Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, see my March 12th entry) and has found it worthy, especially the work of women creating art in far flung places where feminist art provides an aggressive critique of an assaultive male culture. As supportive as the review is, and it is, there is the final blow, " should have been much better."

This critique provokes in me a short, quick gasp of disappointment. Smith continues:

"(T)he show itself feels narrow. Nearly devoid of significant painting and sculpture and thoroughly dominated by photography and video, with a documentary slant to many of its better works, it is more about information, politics and the struggle for equality than it is about art in any very concentrated or satisfying sense."

I know this unsatisfied sense. I am thrilled by the expression of feminist philosophy, but I find myself hungry for ART, masterful technique. Because this is work created by women after 1990, all of whom were born after 1960, one wonders if this somehow reflects the state of training in art schools, rather than state of feminist art? I often hear friends who teach in art schools lamenting their student's rejection of formal training as being a restraint of expression. Is this just the state of art in general?

This speedy, pop culture world combined with access to "easy" technology allows anyone to be "an artist." The liberation of art from formal restraints offers the possibility for radical new ways of doing art and envisioning our world. The problem, as always, when such "restraints" are removed is that mediocrity ensues, with only occasional flashes of brilliance. The irony is that under formal restraints, the result may be the same---brilliance being so rare.

In art with feminism as its motivation, there seems to be the need to shock the viewer into understanding, because the forces of discrimination seem so natural. The use of shock forces recognition. But if shock is the time-honored means, over time it becomes just boring---oh there are the bloody sanitary napkins again, oh there are the butchered bodies again, and so on.

And, is it the curation that is at fault? Is it by choosing easily readable work that the value of struggling to master technical skills is undermined? Is it only about the message? Are we just in love with the message and unconcerned about the "exertion and passion," to use Smith's words, of the object of our love.

Feminism is a philosophy. I think that the philosophy is much bigger than ART. Art helps to communicate the philosophy, but art is not feminist. The message is not the medium. So this unsatisfactoriness, if you will, could be the result of numerous factors effecting the art world in general. Didn't Andy warn us, years ago?

So far, no one seems able to curate a significant show of masterful works with a feminist message. The statement, " should have been much better..." leaves me with the hopeful feeling that the critic knows the work is out there. Someone please find it. The hunger prevails.

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