Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution

Written by Melissa Levin
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, just closed its doors. The show, at   PS1, was an important one, but if truth be told, it sorely lacked perspective. For an exhibition about a movement that was primarily focused on providing an opportunity for women to make choices, very few conscious ones seem to have been made here.

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, just closed its doors. The show, at PS1, was an important one, but if truth be told, it sorely lacked perspective. For an exhibition about a movement that was primarily focused on providing an opportunity for women to make choices, very few conscious ones seem to have been made here.

The show was curated in such a way as to mirror the egalitarian ideals inherent in so many of the individual pieces. Cornelia Butler’s intent was noble, but it distracted rather than absorbed. It begged the question: Is it important to adhere to the values of a movement when curating a show? Especially when it ultimately compromises an understanding of the art? After all, the feminist movement began over thirty years ago now. Ostensibly, at this point, it should be legitimate to discuss what was productive and/or successful and what was simply not.

This said, WACK! was not an exhibit to be overlooked. The women who were featured in the show, such as Lynn Hershman, Marina Abramovic, and Adrian Piper, have been hugely influential in liberating the mediums of performance and video. They define and redefine performance and the documentation thereof, and their work held strong throughout this exhibition. Hannah Wilke's Ponder-r-rosa Series 4 (White Plains, Yellow Rocks) latex sculptures as well as her not-to-be-missed delicious recordings of her voice messages in a piece called, Intercourse with… (1978) greatly contributed to the show. You could also find Faith Wilding's (however oddly situated), Crocheted Environment, an installation straight from Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro's legendary Womanhouse in Los Angeles (1972). Even the Interior Scroll (1975) that Carolee Schneeman pulled out of her vagina is on display.

After wading through this veritable sea of images, Francesca Woodman's black and white photographs, From Space (1975-76), were some of the more profound studies of the body in the exhibition. The photographs show her body disappearing into and reappearing out of peeling walls and crumbling structures. Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document (1973-79) was also a highlight. This piece was an exacting and sympathetic investigation of pregnancy and motherhood, Sanja Ivekovic's Double Life (1975), a series of advertisements for objects like lingerie, juxtaposed with similarly posed, but demure and candid self-portraits, was a quiet examination of the self versus, or in relation to, mass culture.

There were powerful messages on the surfaces of and buried within all of this work, but the quantity (and sometimes quality) dilutes the mixture. A major tenet of the feminist movement was, and continues to be, the importance of questioning. The movement continues to make me question—to question the body, gender, context, democracy, activism, art, the viewer and the viewed, and the differences between then and now.

Images courtesy of PS1

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