In: performance art

It is no secret that music is often a selling point for art exhibitions. From the Museum of Modern Art’s 2015 blockbuster Björk retrospective to the recently closed ‘Stuart Davis: In Full Swing’ show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which focused on the artist’s Jazz-like techniques; music and art just go together. It’s no wonder then that so many great musicians are also talented artists.

David Bowie

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. ©David Bowie.

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. © David Bowie.

The late, great, thin white duke was known for for being a jack of all trades; musician, actor, publisher, avid art collector, and, of course, artist. Besides his impressive collection of Modern British art, which was unveiled during the massive three-part ‘Bowie/Collector’ auction recently held by Sotheby’s, Bowie was himself a gifted painter. Studying art and design since his days Bromley Technical High School, the South London native’s work reveals heavy influences from German Expressionism, from his use of primitivistic and esoteric symbols to his haunting self-portraits.

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Another subject of a MoMA retrospective, Yoko Ono’s impact on art and music, regardless of your opinions on her, are undeniable (but seriously, she didn’t break up The Beatles). From her influence on her late husband, John Lennon, and the importance of their experimental albums’ for New Wave music, to her ongoing peace activism and solo music career, Yoko has deservedly left a mark on contemporary culture. Collaborating with Fluxus artists from the 1960s, the conceptual multimedia artist has done everything from text-driven instructions -such as her famous Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/61), which invites the audience to step on a piece of canvas on the floor-, to provocative performance art, acting as a pioneer for the medium. Check out an excerpt from Yoko’s iconic Cut Piece (1965) below.


Grimes

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. Source: Arbutus Records.

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. © The artist. Source: Arbutus Records.

Drawing inspiration from Japanese anime, manga, and comic artists, Claire Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, creates strikingly graphic paintings and drawings. Although the 28-year-old synth-pop singer is known for her experimental music -which channels influences from Marilyn Manson and Panda Bear to Yayoi Kusama and The Legend of Zelda-, she also creates all of her album art. In 2012, during the promotion her album Visions, a collection of Grimes’ drawings were featured in an exhibition at the Audio Visual Arts Gallery in Manhattan, where they were auctioned in support of “Sisters In Spirit,” an organization which raises awareness of violence against Aboriginal women.

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.

View of the exhibition "A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s", Grey Art Gallery, New York. Photo: Nicholas Papananias.

View of the exhibition “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s”, Grey Art Gallery, New York. Photo: Nicholas Papananias.

Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”

Vin Grabill, Charlotte Moorman performs Num June Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture on the roof of her loft, 62 Pearl Street, New York, July 30, 1982. ©Vin Grabill.

Vin Grabill, Charlotte Moorman performs Num June Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture on the roof of her loft, 62 Pearl Street, New York, July 30, 1982. ©Vin Grabill.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.

Charlotte Moorman performing Jim McWilliams’s Sky Kiss, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, April 11, 1976. Unidentified photographer, reproduced courtesy Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Charlotte Moorman performing Jim McWilliams’s Sky Kiss, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, April 11, 1976. Unidentified photographer, reproduced courtesy Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.

Charlotte Moorman, Bomb Cello,1965 (left) Bomb Cello, c. 1990 (right) Paint and mixed media on metal, 48 x 10 x 10 in. each Courtesy Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin.

Charlotte Moorman, Bomb Cello,1965 (left) Bomb Cello, c. 1990 (right) Paint and mixed media on metal, 48 x 10 x 10 in. each Courtesy Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin.

A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”

As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.

One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.

Kenneth Werner, Charlotte Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece with Nam June Paik, Galerie Aachen, Aachen, West Germany, 1966. Chromogenic color print, Charlotte Moorman Archive, Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries.

Kenneth Werner, Charlotte Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece with Nam June Paik, Galerie Aachen, Aachen, West Germany, 1966. Chromogenic color print, Charlotte Moorman Archive, Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries.

As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.


A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.

Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art hosted a major exhibition of performance art, which included live performances taking place daily in the rooms of the museum. I am talking about The Artist is Present, a retrospective of the work of the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art”, Marina Abramović, which attracted thousands of visitors (700.000 according to The New Yorker).

The presence of performance in leading institutions such as the MoMA has definitely contributed to its acceptance into the mainstream during the last few decades. However, some people still question why performing in front of an audience can be considered art, and not drama/theatre. Abramović herself gave her opinion on this matter in an interview while promoting her MoMA show, stating that “To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality.”

Marina Abramović, ‘Rhythm 10’, 1973, performance, 60 min.

I am sure many actors –and perhaps some artists as well- would have many counterarguments to Abramović’s words, but her assertiveness shows that the performance vs. acting debate is still alive. The lines separating performance art and drama are certainly blurry, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a world where everything seems to be more and more interconnected. So instead of focusing on trying to define what performance is against other disciplines, I think it is much more interesting to examine here why its irruption in the world of visual arts has been so important for the development of contemporary culture.

The beginnings of performance art can be dated back at least to the early twentieth century, and particularly to the Dada movement. Dadaists defied conventional definitions of art by mixing poetry, music and visual arts in unconventional performances that took place in alternative spaces such as the famous Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich.

Yoshihara Jirō, Please Draw Freely, 1956. Paint and marker on wood, approximately 200 x 450 x 3 cm. Installation view: Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Ashiya Park, Ashiya, July 27–August 5, 1956. © The former members of the Gutai Art Association. Courtesy Museum of Osaka University.

Yoshihara Jirō, Please Draw Freely, 1956. Paint and marker on wood, approximately 200 x 450 x 3 cm. Installation view: Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Ashiya Park, Ashiya, July 27–August 5, 1956. © The former members of the Gutai Art Association. Courtesy Museum of Osaka University.

Between the 1940s and the early 1960s, a series of artistic actions (often derived from  “action painting”), interactive installations, and performative events organised by artists such as Yves Klein and groups like Gutai, anticipated some of the characteristics of what was to be labelled “Performance Art” from the 1960s onward.

The Japanese group Gutai was one of the first to take exhibitions and artistic actions outside the traditional spaces of the museum and the gallery. They organised many outdoor events, like the 1956 Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition (Ashiya, Japan), where visitors were invited to take part in the artworks. The idea of opening up art to the participation of the public was also at the heart of Allan Kaprow’s happenings, in which art became a collective experience.

Allan Kaprow's happening Fluids, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963.

Allan Kaprow’s happening ‘Fluids’, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963.

This new role of the public -who is no longer contemplative and passive as in traditional art exhibitions- that comes with performance art, disrupts the conventional relationship between the viewers and the artworks, and generates new dynamics between the viewers and the artists. Because, as the title of Abramović’s exhibition points out, one of the most important characteristics of performance is that the artist is present. In performance art, the body of the artist is the medium, and it becomes an incredibly powerful tool to express different narratives and ideas.

In opposition to an inert painting or sculpture, the presence of the very alive body of the artist means that art stops being a safe experience for the viewer, given the unpredictability of the situation. With performance, art invaded the “real world”, the here and now. Some artists have put the public in particularly difficult positions by putting themselves in danger in front of an audience. Abramović, Joseph Beuys, and Chris Burden are some of the most prominent examples. The latter is known for his 1971 piece Shoot, in which he was shot in the arm by a friend in front of a small audience.

Chris Burden, Shoot (1971). F Space, Santa Ana, CA. November 19, 1971. At 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me. © Chris Burden. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

Chris Burden, ‘Shoot’ (1971). F Space, Santa Ana, CA. November 19, 1971. © Chris Burden.

In the 1970s, performance was already a quite established artistic practice, with Fluxus –an international, heterogeneous conglomeration of artists, designers, composers, dancers and other professionals that shaped a highly experimental artistic community- as one of its most important representatives.

Why was performance such a success at the time? One of the main reasons was the rise, particularly in the United States, of a series of social and political movements that demanded civil and social rights, equality, and justice. In such a politicised environment, many artists used performance as a means to address the concerns behind different social groups and communities. For instance, some of the most well-known performances from this period are linked to the rise of feminism and the Feminist art movement. This is the case of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), which culminated with the artist extracting a paper scroll from her vagina while reading from it.

Carolee Schneemann performing her piece Interior Scroll, 1975.

Carolee Schneemann performing her piece ‘Interior Scroll’, 1975.

These are just a few of the many artists and actions that contributed to the early developments of performance as an art form. It would be impossible to cite them all here, but the changes they introduced during the second half of the twentieth century -the organisation of artistic actions outside traditional spaces, the increasingly active role of the publics, and, most importantly, the use of the artist’s body as a medium- are essential in order to understand our current artistic context.

Are you bored of seeing the same types of paintings over and over again, flat and on a regular canvas hung up on a white wall? Or are you an artist in need of some inspiration to move past the traditional image of a painting? Here is a list of artists from the past century that approached the flat surface in innovative ways, leaving behind conventional practices and taking their works to a whole new realm.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Henri Matisse, 'Memory of Oceania', 1952-53. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and charcoal on paper, mounted on canvas. 112 x 112 7/8” (284.4 x 286.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund, 1968. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse, ‘Memory of Oceania’, 1952-53. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and charcoal on paper, mounted on canvas. 112 x 112 7/8” (284.4 x 286.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund, 1968. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Matisse was one of the first to depart from the classic method of applying paint onto canvas. While he is known for his “traditional” paintings, towards the very end of his life he broke away from this and pulled out the scissors. With the help of a large crew of assistants, Matisse created what are known as the cut-outs. For these cut-outs, he and his crew hand-painted white paper using brightly colored gouache paints, then proceeded to cut these painted papers into simple geometric and organic shapes. These cut-out pieces were then either pasted onto canvases and paired with other materials such as charcoal or, for the first time in art history, pinned directly onto the walls of the museum or gallery.

Georges Braque (1882 -1963)

Georges Braque, 'Still Life with Tenora' (1913). © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Georges Braque, ‘Still Life with Tenora’ (1913). © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Along with Picasso, Braque made some of the first collages in art history, also known as papier collé. As part of the development of Cubism, Braque introduced other materials and patterns onto his canvases, suggesting the subject through the use of found flat materials instead of describing the subject-matter through paint. This may seem like a simple idea, or resemble an art project you did with your kindergarten teacher, but it was a true innovation at the time. This idea soon evolved and inspired other artists to further explore it by introducing three-dimensional objects in their works.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

Kurt Schwitters, 'Merz Picture 32 A. The Cherry Picture', 1921. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Kurt Schwitters, ‘Merz Picture 32 A. The Cherry Picture’, 1921. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Kurt Schwitters came from a very academic background, but around 1920 he became very involved in the Dada movement in Berlin, which mocked academic practices and provided artists with the opportunity to approach visual arts with complete freedom. Schwitters brought to this movement what is known as assemblage. Assemblage is linked to the concept of papier collé, but instead of using found paper materials, it consists in fixing actual found objects on the flat surface. Schwitters’ work plays with the shadows made by the objects stuck to the canvas, shadows that move and change depending on the light hitting the pieces.

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, 'Waiting', 1960. © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, ‘Waiting’, 1960. © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan.

Fontana went one step further in the use of scissors. Instead of simply cutting shapes and placing them onto the canvas, like Matisse and Braque had done, he cut the canvas itself and punctured purposeful holes into it. Fontana saw this acts as a means of building a bridge between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in art. He referred to these series of works as Spatial Concept, and was quite proud of himself for discovering the power of the tagli (“cuts”). He stated “my discovery was the hole and that’s it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery”. Some of these cut canvases are painted in a single color, some are simply left white. These white canvases in particular evoke the sense of destruction of the pure as a vehicle to progress into the sculptural realm.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Jackson Pollock at Work. Photo: www.Jackson-Pollock.org.

Jackson Pollock at Work. Photo: www.Jackson-Pollock.org.

Jackson Pollock took his very large canvases and placed them on the floor instead of upright on an easel. Photographs of his creative process have circulated thoroughly. Once the canvases were on the ground, Pollock used paint brushes to drip and splatter paint across these large white surfaces. Pollock is a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, an artistic current that seeks to represent ideas and emotions using abstract forms and color instead of a figurative and realistic representation. Anyone interested in this important figure of American art can now visit the studio where Pollock worked, where you would find evidence of his technique.

Takis (born in 1925)

Takis, 'Magnetic Painting No. 7', 1962. Oil on canvas, magnets, silk ribbon, and cork. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

Takis, ‘Magnetic Painting No. 7’, 1962. Oil on canvas, magnets, silk ribbon, and cork. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

This artist ties together art and science. He is known as the first person to “send a man into space”, six months before Yuri Gagarin, during a performance. Takis’ work explores magnetic field energy, which he uses as a tool for altering the shape of the canvas. Takis transforms his canvases into sculptural pieces through the use of magnets, creating works that are a sort of magic trick. He often hangs small three-dimensional magnetic objects from the ceiling using thin wire strings, creating the illusion of floating geometric shapes in front of large brightly colored monochromatic surface. These geometric shapes are held up through the use of magnets on the back side of the canvas, which in turn is slightly pulled by the magnetic forces around it.

Yves Klein (1928-1962)

Photograph of Yves Klein's performance.

Photograph of Yves Klein’s performance.

Yves Klein used the body as a paint brush, transforming the act of painting into a performance. Klein experimented with his “living brushes” technique in small apartments in Paris. He would invite women to strip, dip their naked bodies in paint and press themselves against large white canvases. This, of course, became quite the hip thing to witness, and thus the creation of these pieces became a performance accompanied by live music that was also filmed for us to watch to this day. These pieces were kept very simple, with only one to a handful of single imprints of female bodies per canvas. For these, Klein used very strictly the color now known as International Klein Blue, whose significance for the artist is unclear and highly debated.

Günther Uecker (born 1930)

Günther Uecker, 'Untitled', 1967. Paint and nails on canvas on wood. 32 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches (82.5 x 82.5 cm). Photo: Dominique Lévy Gallery.

Günther Uecker, ‘Untitled’, 1967. Paint and nails on canvas on wood. 32 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches (82.5 x 82.5 cm). Photo: Dominique Lévy Gallery.

Günther Uecker used yet another surprising material in place of paint on his canvas: nails. He became obsessed with purification rituals, especially those used in religious contexts such as Buddhism. He used the hammering of nails as a meditative practice that eventually monopolized his artistic works. The canvases are supported by wood paneling in order to make this process possible. The nails create organic shapes through systematic and repetitive patterns. Most of his work is completely monochromatic, meaning the nails and the canvas are painted in a single color, usually a play off of black or white. After a full career of hammering nails to canvases, Uecker eventually progressed onto land art.

During my last year of university, my Contemporary Art professor completely changed my views on art history. On the first day of class, she asked us to think about the artists we had studied in depth during the previous three years. How many women could we remember? The answer was simple: not a single one. A few had been mentioned briefly, often as this or that artist’s wife. The next question seemed to follow naturally: Why have there been no great women artists? This was precisely the title of a 1971 ground-breaking essay by Linda Nochlin, then a Professor at Vassar College, where she questioned the whole intellectual structure upon which this inquiry is based.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1965.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1965.

Yoko Ono’s 1965 performance Cut Piece examined in a very simple way the role that the female body has played in art throughout the ages: that of a passive object. In art history, women appear mainly as models or muses. For centuries, the work of those few women that had access to artistic training has been considered to be inferior and secondary compared to that of their masters, fathers, brothers, husbands or lovers. Misleading categories such as “Genius” and “Great Artist”, reserved only for men, have been intrinsic to the discipline of art history for a long time and were not really challenged until the 1960s and 1970s by scholars like Nochlin, who stated that doing so “would reveal the entire romantic, elitist, individual-glorifying, and monograph-producing substructure upon which the profession of art history is based”.

The immediate effect of Nochlin’s essay was to increase the interest of scholars in recovering the work of those women that had been forgotten by history. This idea crystallised in the exhibition Women Artists: 1550-1950 organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976, which included works by more than thirty artists from different periods, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Rosa Bonheur, Gwen John and Lee Krasner.

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York. © Donald Woodman.

The flourishing of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s prompted not only art theorists but also artists to re-discover lost role models for women and attack the male-centred version of history that had always passed as legitimate. Perhaps the most important work in this sense was Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979), an installation where the names of thirty-nine notable women from history (most of which still do not appear in any history textbook) were represented by embroidered textiles and porcelain plates, artistic expressions that have traditionally been considered “women’s work” and have therefore been excluded from the category of “high art”.

Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. (Watch a clip here).

It is important to remember, however, that not all art produced by women is necessarily feminist or aimed against patriarchy. In opposition to the initiatives that simply sook to lessen the effects of discrimination, such as women-only exhibitions, important voices like that of feminist scholar Griselda Pollock urged for a more political model of feminist interventions. Rescuing the work of women who have been excluded from art history is not enough; in order to undermine patriarchal society, it is necessary to explore and deeply question the social structures that have led to this process of exclusion.

Many female artists have brought awareness to the oppression, marginalization and violence that women have suffered for centuries through their art, particularly after the 1960s. One of the most iconic pieces in this regard is Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), a video performance in which the artist not only criticised women’s roles within the home, but also the culture of frenetic consumption fostered by capitalism.

Frida Kahlo, My Birth, 1932. Private collection.

Frida Kahlo, My Birth, 1932. Private collection.

The female body, very often the artist’s own body, became a key tool for visually expressing a multiplicity of issues that directly affect the lives of women, such as menstruation, maternity, sexual violence, gender roles, and body image. For me, one of the most interesting examples of this is Frida Kahlo, who in the 1930s depicted her own birth in a way that finds no parallel in the history of art. This unusual image is still shocking today, as is any that deals frankly with female genitalia, often erased by male painters in their idealised depictions of the female body. In the 1970s, artists like Chicago, who insisted on the existence of a distinct “female sensibility”, scandalised audiences and generated controversy in feminist circles with their use of vaginal imagery.

Judy Chicago, Peeling Back, 1974. New Mexico Museum of Art.

Judy Chicago, Peeling Back, 1974. New Mexico Museum of Art.

Sexual violence against women was (and still is) a very prominent subject in feminist art. One of the projects that first prompted a social dialogue around this important issue was Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977), a three-week performance that took place in a shopping centre and exposed the amount of rapes reported in Los Angeles during that period of time.

Suzanne Lacy, Three Weeks in May, 1977.

Suzanne Lacy, Three Weeks in May, 1977.

A few years before, Ana Mendieta had addressed sexual violence in a very powerful manner, presenting her own body as that of a rape victim in a performance that took place in the artist’s apartment.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973. Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973. Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection.

Finally, I want to mention the work of Cindy Sherman. From the beginning of her career she has photographed herself in many different roles and scenarios, reminding the viewer about the important role of stereotypes in modern society. I find her striking images fascinating because they seem to highlight what Judith Butler has called the “performative” character of gender and the instability of identities.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #479, 1975. © 2012 Cindy Sherman.

Just as there is not just one way of being a woman, there is not only one feminist approach to art. The introduction of feminist perspectives in art history is important because it puts into question the discourse centred on the white, Western, heterosexual male gaze, opening up the discipline to criticism and new points of view.

The development of what has been termed the Feminist Art Movement is greatly indebted to the work of the aforementioned artists. Although most of my examples come from the United States, similar expressions simultaneously appeared in the rest of the world. Still, the question that the feminist collective Guerrilla Girls posed in the 1980s, Do Women Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?, is, as their ongoing project shows, still relevant today.

Guerrilla Girls, 2012.

I highly recommend reading Pollock’s recent article “The National Gallery is Erasing Women from the History of Art”. Sadly, in 2016 many museums and cultural institutions are still way behind art theory and practice when it comes to ending discrimination and promoting inclusiveness and diversity.

On February 18th, I attended the opening of “Whose Feminism is it Anyway” at Andrew Kreps Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit, which runs until March 26th, features the work of Andrea Bowers, an LA based artist, feminist, and social activist. One of Bowers’ most notable projects was a solo exhibition in 2014 at Pomona College Museum of Art called “#sweetjane,” which addressed the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.

“Whose Feminism is it Anyway” features transgendered women activists “committed to direct action and civil disobedience.” Inspired by various posters and ads with progressive and feminist themes, Bowers has created an exhibition that makes trans-feminist women visible in the contemporary art world. In the entrance of the exhibit there is a sculpture called Goddess (Power of the Common Public) that is composed of a pair of wings adorned with multicolored ribbons cascading onto the floor. The ribbons are embroidered with feminist-themed slogans like “my body, my choice” and “free our sisters, free ourselves”.

Courtesy of Andrew Kreps Gallery and The Artist: Andrew Bowers, "Goddess (Power of the Common Public)," 2016

Courtesy of Andrew Kreps Gallery and The Artist: Andrew Bowers, “Goddess (Power of the Common Public),” 2016

The main pieces on display are a series of three large scale photographs called Trans Liberation. These photos, which are meant to echo traditional feminist posters, feature three trans-feminist activists of color, Cece McDonald, Johanna Saavedra, and Jennicet Gutierrez, standing in powerful poses and dressed in outfits that are at once sexy and tasteful. These portraits give these elegant and strong trans women a platform of visibility.

In the center of the gallery, there are several piles of political graphics from past and present that promote a variety of Leftist and Feminist causes. This part of the exhibit was very popular and everyone seemed to enjoy rifling through these beautiful and provocative images.

Courtesy of Andrew Kreps Gallery and The Artist: Andrew Bowers, "Trans Liberation: Ni Una Mas, Not One More (Jennicet Gutierrez) (in collaboration with Ada Tinnell)," 2016

Courtesy of Andrew Kreps Gallery and The Artist: Andrew Bowers, “Trans Liberation: Ni Una Mas, Not One More (Jennicet Gutierrez) (in collaboration with Ada Tinnell),” 2016

At the end of the exhibit, a short film has been projected onto multicolored ribbons. In this film, Bowers has a roundtable discussion about the role of transgender activism within feminism with Patrice Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, and Cece McDonald and Jennicet Gutierrez, two of the subjects of the Trans Liberation photos. This film shed light on the plight of the trans-feminist and black communities and, like the rest of Bowers’ work in the exhibit, challenged my own feminist values. Bowers’ show is short and sweet but thought-provoking, provocative, and overall, masterfully done.

With the right kind of motivation and a well-planned layout, one can hop across Brooklyn from one gallery opening to the next, and get the full and rich depth that this exciting fall 2015 season has to offer in the Brooklyn art world. Start off on the top of the map, use for your absolute guide and bible Brooklyn’s very own Wagmag, a comprehensive guide to the ever increasing gallery spread in Brooklyn, and get ready for the Greenpoint exhibition spaces. In particular I would recommend checking Heliopolis gallery, Yes Gallery, Java Studios and all the way up on Green Street you can work your way into the intimate space of the 106 Greene gallery.


Phoebe BurglundSpecifically at the 106 Greene space they’re exhibiting a solo exhibition from Brooklyn based artist Phoebe Berglund, Waiting in Line, where the artist uses assorted materials including dirt, concrete, bananas and stilettos all pieces from which she cantilevers her deconstructed, heavily painted frames. This work provokes the viewer to consider urban decay and the nature of our built environment, always subject to time and erosion. Commodity culture and technological innovation are foiled by man’s impotence to reconcile with his own temporal limits his finite nature and ultimate mortality. But this will only be your starting point, the beginning of a journey that leads on through all the diverse creative approaches and unique spaces Brooklyn’s art scene has on offer this season.


Next on the list, travel down to the very epicenter, where Brooklyn’s gallery spaces just keep emerging with work that attracts and provokes. This is the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and here there are galleries ranging from obscure and small, like the City Reliquary or The Boiler, to larger older and more established exhibition spaces like the WAH Center or Brooklyn Art Library. On display in one smaller but worthwhile gallery, Moiety Gallery, a body of work from the French multi-media artist Thomas Mailaender, this exhibition is a series Mailaender has titled 1998. This title brings along with it a functional signification as it directs the viewer to the fact that Mailaender has decided to bypass the use of newer materials and technological processes to develop his distinct photographic collages.


Ryan Hawk, Between Two States

Instead what Mailaender has done here is carry the imagery from his youth, a compilation of found internet images that pre-date the ability to instantly call up images by the thousands via search engine, forward re-examining bizarre images from the early days of computer development. Endured to the process of photomontage Mailaender uses this analog process by taking his images from their digital base and collaging hard copies, then recapturing the images now as collisions between disjointed imagery. In the final prints we see a mixture that combines the grotesque, the tabloid bizarre and the uncanny, a wonderful dizzying popular culture hybrid. Images range from the a carnival extra with bloated stomach drawn on with circular designs to a Neanderthal man and his 20th century wife who has just given birth to an alien child, these call up the late 90’s trash tabloid culture that exists and becomes even more distorted as nostalgic references to a recent past when computer technology was just emerging and remained rough and unrefined in its early stages.


Next stop along the seemingly endless gallery spree that exists within Brooklyn’s ever growing, ever thriving fine art scene, the Bushwick area offers some truly exceptional galleries and exhibition spaces, what I have found is that Bushwick specifically holds some of the greatest performance art spaces. Tucked under the j-train overpass, along the Broadway strip, there are galleries like The Living Gallery, Wayfarers, Good Work Gallery and my personal favorite, Grace Exhibition Space. Here, in these spaces, a cultivated atmosphere has arisen for multi-media and performance works, even large scale installations, to co-exist and spark endless discussion and debate. At the Grace Exhibition Space, during the entire fall art season into the December, there will be a collection of Performances curated by Whitney V. Hunter, the current David C. Driskell PhD Fellow at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. This series of Performances titled The Sphinx Returns, seeks to promote the idea and discussion of performance art as the center for myth and ritual in our contemporary lives, injection a sense of the mysterious and the fantastic; but also taking on tough issues like race, gender and sexuality, marginalization and art criticism. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening for the first performance series and what a complete and spectacular adventure, pieces by international artists Hector Canonge and Lion Ayodele, took the body as a site for past traumas and allowed the viewer to contemplate modern identity in relation to art history and world history.


So get out and explore the expanding art world around you, if you are working and/or living in NYC from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan to Harlem there is art all around you. I have laid out for you some great spots to visit on the Brooklyn art scene, but all over the city the exhibition season has started and shows will be continuously opening, from the smallest gallery to the largest museum exhibition. Get out and see what is on offer this season in NYC, and if you are in the borough of Brooklyn then you know what to do, take that winding art trail throughout the urban environs and seek out something culturally uplifting.