The origins of the feminist artistic movement

In 1969, only 8% of the artists presented at the Whitney Museum Annual (now the Whitney Biennale) were women. And in renowned New York galleries, women represented only “one artist in twenty”, writes art journalist Carey Lovelace. Far from being an isolated problem in a few institutions, the lack of female artists was part of a larger problem. “’We just can’t find quality women,’ was the reason often cited by museums for the lack of women represented,” writes Lovelace. But the women of the Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) group knew better.

Groups like WAR, which Lovelace said could have been “the world’s premier organization of feminist artists”, have challenged this notion. And in the course of the social and political changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s, consciously feminist arts organizations like WAR represented a vital part of the women’s movement, leading to “a whirlwind of activism, of protests. , galleries run by women, [and] newspapers.

Many members of WAR were originally part of the Art Workers Coalition (AWC), a group of artists who, as an artist and member of WAR, Jacqueline Skiles writes: “came together to protest both the conditions and structure of the art world and the war in Vietnam. They also criticized what they saw as the ‘establishment of the art world‘ perpetuation of social injustices and oppressive power structures. ‘However, as Skiles points out, the AWC has failed in the process. review of its own power structure. Women were “still expected to type letters written by men and address envelopes” which excluded them from decision-making. Women in AWC began to meet separately to address these issues, which led to the formation of WAR in early 1969.

Other groups followed: Women, Students, and Artists for Black Artists Liberation, formed later in 1969, as well as the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists in 1970. (The latter organized a protest at the Whitney in 1970 for its lack of of female artists.) As Lovelace writes, Ad Hoc “quickly attracted other alienated and isolated women” with her “colorful tactics such as secreting eggs and tampax pistons marked” 50% “around the museum “. The following Annual, in December 1970, had 20% women, including two black artists – Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud – which, as Lovelace notes, was “the first time that women of color were presented in a large art Museum “.

Soon came a wave of other feminist art movements and exhibitions, such as “Twenty-Six Contemporary Women Artists” in 1971 and, in 1973, “Women Choose Women”, organized by the Women in the Arts group. In 1971, black women artists formed the collective “Where are we”, Later organizing an exhibition of the same name, which became the first art exhibition of black women. And across the country, programs like the California Institute of the Arts’ Feminist Art Program, Womanhouse (“an entire house turned into room after room of environmental artwork and performance”), Chicago’s Women’s Graphics Collective and Miami’s Women Artists It’s Time has shown that the feminist art movement is by no means a New York anomaly.

Although, as Lovelace points out, “equal representation would remain elusive” (and still is in many ways), these early groups helped shape feminist art.


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By: Carey Lovelace

Women’s Art Journal, vol. 37, n ° 1 (SPRING / SUMMER 2016), pp. 4-11

Old Town Publishing, Inc.

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Women Artists News, Volume 6, Number 2/3

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Feminist Art Journal, Volume 1, Number 1

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