Chapman University Revisits the F Word

At the entrance to Chapman University Guggenheim Gallery's “XX Redux: revisiting a feminist art collective,” husband-and-wife artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner gaze at each other over a bouquet of daisies. A line at the bottom tells us, “She might have had a 50/50 chance of being represented by D'Amico Gallery.” Part of (En)Gendered (In)Equality: The Gallery Tally Poster Project, that poster (and the others tacked up throughout) detail the miserable percentage of artwork by women displayed at contemporary art galleries throughout the country.

Begun by artist Micol Hebron and crowd-sourced to any artists interested in making one, the project was inspired by the work of art collective Double X, who first brought attention to the disparity in the 1970s. Founded on a philosophy of personal experience and humanism, Double X created art, wrote about it, funded the work of women artists—including women of color when it was unusual to do so—and, to their credit, produced exhibitions of work by women who were not members. Having disappeared into the ether of art history, organizer and former member Nancy Buchanan remedies that slight, gathering together an exhibition of recent artwork by past members, adding the work of young women artists influenced by the group to show how the struggle continues.

To the right of the entrance is Vanalyne Green's brilliant I'm still a Feminist, with the artist sitting, leaning into the camera and repeating the titular line for a concise minute and 37 seconds. Even when she stops, walks away and leaves us gazing at her empty chair, we can still hear her in our heads.

Faith Wilding celebrates her 71 years with a snaky line of watercolors, 71 Leaves. The delicacy of the pictures—vellum paper, unframed—reinforces the short, delicate life we (and the leaves) have in common, although the template for the drawings seems to be a vaginal blot. There's more vulva imagery in Hebron's riff on Frank Stella's Black Paintings, her glittery white stripes on black drawing our eyes to the outlines of fleshy pink labia taken from a feminist coloring book.

Likewise, Audrey Chan's photographic documentation Walk of Cunts (Study After Judy Chicago) has her donning a poorly permed wig and wretched '70s fashions, then posing as the iconic artist while chalking colorful vaginas on Hollywood sidewalks, the iconic Chicago gamely sharing the space with her for several pictures.

Jan Lester Martin's carefully constructed collages of women from decades past are perfect gems of the medium: a paint can serves as an eyeball, a sliced orange for the other, the churning white icing of a cake a luxurious hairdo from the '50s or '60s; her corn-on-the-cob border of Bushel & a Peck a marvel of kitsch in both its execution and source material. In contrast, Nancy Webber's India-themed collages feel unimaginative and artistically stingy.

Informed by childhood memories, Mayde Herberg's Birdcage photographs portray the artist peering inside cages she has dressed with props: a wedding-cake-topper bride and groom, two eggs (one in a tiny chair), a toy doll, and a high chair. She's not imprisoned by these scenarios, but an outsider gazing at a fate she has avoided. Diane Calder's Looking Out series of photos are unassuming, perfectly framed photos of life outside a museum's four walls, asking, “Why focus on the art inside when it's all a boy's club, anyway?” I don't get the similarities that Rachel Youdelman sees between Judge Judy defendants and classical faces from Caravaggio or Bosch, her source material making the entire thing seem more like a colossal put-on than anything important.

Putting a teeth-baring spin on the word bitch, former performance artist Rachel Rosenthal describes her paintings of dogs as self-portraits, reclaiming a demeaning term as something snarling, fierce and more than willing to bury its fangs in whatever fist is raised in its direction. Even the tiny orange raincoat on one of them seems like a safety vest designed to warn others away.

Nancy Youdelman's sculptures are magnificent works, especially her bronze of a young girl's dress as a collector of memories, festooned with buttons, strands of pearls and old photographs of a girl and her dog, the weight of the sculpture implying the burden of those memories. Framed in a pale Ikea-style display box, Pin Bra #2's brassiere, every inch of fabric studded with straight pins, is literally lacerating.

The question remains, however: Forty years after Double X's closing, do we still need a reminder that the personal can be art? Or is that a naive utopianism mired in nostalgia? Should a male reviewer even be asking the question? As long as there are still “discussions” about rape creating beautiful children, cunt is tossed around as something derogatory, or feminist is considered an insult, women artists young and old still need to hear they're valued and necessary. Now more than ever.

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