Monthly Archives: May 2012

Where were the Lesbian Pop Artists?

The queer community is frequently said to have given birth to the 1960s pop art movement. With the heavy use of camp and clever plays on consumerism, gay men were attracted to and very prominent within pop art. However, lesbian artists are notably absent from the movement’s art historical records. While it is possible that lesbian pop artists existed yet remained unrecorded, the complete lack of information on such women makes it more likely that there were no lesbians creating pop art. Due to the community’s exclusionary attitudes towards women artists, the invisibility of lesbians at the time, and the attractive emerging feminist art movement lesbians were largely not drawn to or accepted into the pop art movement.

One of the most important contributing factors to the lack of lesbian pop artists is the lack of women in the movement as a whole. The artists who became successful and influential within the movement were entirely male while women remained strangely absent. An ideal example of the lack of female pop artists is found in the exhibition and its accompanying film, “Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968”. This 2010 exhibition attempted to display the work of and interview women pop artists. However, many of the artists included created work that was distinctly not pop. For instance, Martha Rosler and Faith Ringgold were both featured within the film, yet did not actually work within the pop art movement; neither running within the same circles as other pop artists nor creating work that was stylistically pop. The fact that they were included in the show reveals the limited number of women pop artists available.

(L) Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72. (R) Faith Ringgold, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

(L) Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72. (R) Faith Ringgold, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

Although not all necessarily pop, the experiences these women shared would be relevant to the plight of all women artists of the time. Exclusionary practices towards women, queer artists, and artists of color were common; one of the most recurring troubles being finding gallery representation. For example, Rosalyn Drexler was exhibiting at Reuben Gallery along with emerging pop artists George Segal, Claes Oldenburg, and more when the gallery closed. While her male peers had no issue finding new representation, Drexler inexplicably struggled. While her work was at a level comparable to her peers, her gender was apparently not. She also recalls the societal expectations upon women artists who must work while caring for their husbands and children saying, “I couldn’t go to the factory and use drugs. I couldn’t go to Andy’s and hang out”. Drexler’s peer Idelle Weber reiterates this idea, saying, “We were the only ones with children so we had a hard time going out to play”, claiming further that if her contemporaries knew that she had children it would have ended—or at least greatly limited—her career. This idea of a boys club in which the women cannot play is a recurring theme for women artists of the 1960s. While their work may have been innovative and visually strong, it was difficult to advance while being excluded by peers.

(Top) Rosalyn Drexler, Home Movies, 1963. (Bottom) Idelle Weber, Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964.

(Top) Rosalyn Drexler, Home Movies, 1963. (Bottom) Idelle Weber, Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964.

The lack of innovative, successful, and influential women artists has been thoroughly explored in Linda Nochlin’s famous article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in which she attributes the dearth of women in the field to a system structured to prevent just such a thing. The limited options of education for women artists, societal expectations discouraging women entering the arts, and a romanticized ideal of the male genius has historically led to the institutional exclusion of women from the ranks of the truly great. While this piece does not directly address the plight of lesbian artists, one can assume similar structural inequalities prevented lesbian women and straight women from achieving notoriety. In addition to gender discrimination, lesbian artists’ sexuality increased the difficulty of obtaining success in a field dominated by straight men. Continue reading

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Women Artists Still Face Discrimination

Check out this article about the discrimination women still face in the art world. Did you know that of the twelve prestigious Gagosian Galleries only one will exhibit work by women in 2012? How about the fact that 97% of the Met’s modern art was created by men, while 83% of the nudes are women?

Many people are unaware that women are underrepresented and underpaid in the art world. The problem is not that women’s work is not as good, it’s not that women are not promoting themselves as well, and it’s certainly not that there are less of us. The problem is that so many of the people running our museums and galleries are biased against women, and push men’s work to the forefront while dismissing work by women.

It’s important that we know this. Because things will not change until we at least acknowledge the problem.

Here are a few museums and galleries that showcase women artists. Take a look if you can; they share the work of some incredible artists:

National Museum of Women in the Arts: The only major museum in the world dedicated to women’s artwork. This is one of my favorite museums. Definitely visit if you’re in the DC area!

Woman Made Gallery: A Chicago gallery with the mission of ensuring equal placement of women in the art world. It’s a beautiful space. They’re currently accepting submissions for their “Inspired By… Celebrating Illinois Women Artists and Artisans” exhibit.

Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: An exhibition and education environment dedicated to feminist art. Their site has helped me with quite a few research papers!

Florida Museum for Women Artists: A museum dedicated to identifying and promoting women in the arts.

Rutgers Institute for Women and Art: Educating about women in the arts and exhibiting work by women artists, the IWA attempts to include women in the mainstream art world and historical record. Also check out their Feminist Art Project.

Feel free to comment if you know of any women-oriented art programs, galleries, or museums you feel should be included in this list!

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