The Photographers’ Gallery presents Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s, an expansive exhibition comprising forty-eight international female artists and over 150 major works from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection in Vienna. Curator Gabriele Schor calls the feminist art movement of the 1970s an “Avant-Garde” to underline its pioneering role.
The exhibition highlights groundbreaking practices that shaped the feminist art movement and provides a timely reminder of the wide impact of a seminal generation of artists. Alongside established practitioners such as VALIE EXPORT, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Martha Rosler, the exhibition also provides a rare opportunity to discover the influential work of artists including Katalin Ladik, Nil Yalter, Birgit Jürgenssen and Sanja Iveković.
Focusing on photographs, collage pieces, performances, films and videos produced throughout the 1970s, the exhibition reflects a moment during which emancipation, equality and civil rights protests became part of public discourse. Through radical, poetic, ironic and often provocative investigations, female artists were galvanized to use their work as further means of engagement - questioning feminine identities, gender roles and sexual politics through new modes of expression.
Challenging accepted social conventions including the mechanisms of the art industry, these artists sought to reconfigure, and ultimately reshape, the prevailing iconography of ‘woman’ as the passive muse surrendering herself to the male gaze. Operating across the public and personal realms, as well as using their own bodies as central motifs, artists sought to address broad political issues and confront patriarchy and sexism in art and society. In doing so they created a new, assertive and multifaceted female identity.
The exhibition is organised into four loose themes:
In Domestic Agenda artists challenge the confines of the domestic sphere. In her video work Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), Martha Rosler employs drama and parody to criticize the traditional role of the housewife. Penny Slinger’s humorous photographic series Wedding invitation (Art is just a piece of cake) (1975), depicts the artist dressed as a bride embedded within a wedding cake, theatrically and sarcastically linking the cutting of the wedding cake with the act of the wedding night. In her self-portrait I want out of here (1976) Birgit Jürgenssen expresses the desire to break out of the limiting role of the housewife.
The Seductive Body: Sexuality and Objectification brings together artists that exploit their own bodies as art material. These include Hannah Wilke’s Through the Large Glass (1976), featuring the artist stripping behind Duchamp’s Contd. Page 2 of 3 The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923); and VALIE EXPORT who presented herself and her body as a desirable and accessible object in Tap and Touch Cinema (1968).
Cultural ideals of beauty and body image are examined in In My Skin: Normative Beauty and the Limits of the Body. Change (1974), by Ewa Partum, depicts a split portrait image of the artist in which one half of her face is aged using make-up techniques. In Body Halves (1971), Rita Myers collages together pictures of her body to create the perfect version of herself. Others, like Ana Mendieta or Gina Pane, pushed themselves to the very limits of physical endurance, experimenting with facial and body manipulation and distorting their features through pressing them against sheets of Plexiglas or slicing their skin with razors.
Alter Ego: Masquerade, Parody and Self-Representation groups artists that analyse and deconstruct stereotypical personality manifestations and ‘systems of representation’ through role-playing and costumes. Cindy Sherman, Suzy Lake, Alexis Hunter and Marcella Campagnano cast themselves in a variety of roles for their photographic explorations into visual representations of women in popular media. Other projects include Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Roberta Breitmore (1974- 1979) in which the artist assumed an alternative identity playing to American stereotypes of the ideal woman.
Exhibiting 48 artists:
Helena Almeida (b. 1934, Portugal), Eleanor Antin (b. 1935, USA), Anneke Barger, (b. 1939, NL), Lynda Benglis (b. 1941, USA), Judith Bernstein (b. 1942, USA), Renate Bertlmann (b. 1943, Austria), Teresa Burga (b. 1935, Peru), Marcella Campagnano (b. 1941, IT), Judy Chicago (b. 1939, USA), Linda Christanell (b. 1939, Austria), Lili Dujourie (b. 1941, Belgium), Mary Beth Edelson (b. 1933, USA), Renate Eisenegger (b. 1949, Germany), VALIE EXPORT (b. 1940, Austria), Esther Ferrer (b. 1937, Estland), Lynn Hershman Leeson (b. 1941, USA), Alexis Hunter (1948-2014, USA), Sanja Iveković(b. 1949, Croatia), Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003, Austria), Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943, Denmark), Ketty La Rocca (1938-1976, Italy), Leslie Labowitz (b. 1946, USA), Katalin Ladik (b. 1942, Serbia), Brigitte Lang (b. 1953, Austria), Suzanne Lacy (b. 1945, USA), Suzy Lake (b. 1947, USA), Karin Mack (b. 1940, Austria), Ana Mendieta (1948-1985, Cuba/USA), Rita Myers (b. 1947,USA), Lorraine O'Grady (b. 1934, USA), ORLAN (b. 1944, France), Gina Pane (1939-1990, France), Letítia Parente (1930-1991, Brazil), Ewa Partum (b. 1945, Poland), Friederike Pezold (b. 1945, Austria), Margot Pilz (b. 1936, The Netherlands) , Ulrike Rosenbach (b. 1943, Germany), Martha Rosler (b. 1943, USA), Suzanne Santoro (b. 1946, USA), Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939, USA), Lydia Schouten (b. 1955, The Netherlands), Cindy Sherman (b. 1954, USA), Penny Slinger (b. 1947, UK), Annegret Soltau (b. 1946, Germany), Hannah Wilke (1940-1993, USA), Martha Wilson (b. 1947, USA), Francesca Woodman (1958-1981, USA), Nil Yalter (b. 1938, Turkey).
Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s is co-curated by Gabriele Schor, The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna, and Anna Dannemann, The Photographers’ Gallery.
Notes for Editors
The Feminist Avant-Garde
Art of the 1970s
The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna
560 pages, ed. by Gabriele Schor (published by Prestel)