NY Jewish Museum Shows Key Works by Women Artists

The new exhibit explores the impact of feminism on contemporary painting.

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A new exhibit at The Jewish Museum explores the impact of feminism, which inspired new ideas and challenged old ones, on contemporary painting over the last half century.

With works by Judy Chicago, Nicole Eisenman, Eva Hesse, Lee Krasner, Lee Lozano, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero and others, "Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism," examines the roots of feminist art in Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism, extending to the present.

"These were all extremely well-trained artists who studied at the best schools with the best teachers, but their experience informed their feminism," said Daniel Belasco, the exhibit's curator.

"They felt discriminated against in art schools with all-male faculties and galleries took them less seriously than their male peers. They saw a big disparity between the ideals of art and the reality of trying to be an artist, particularly for women," he added.

The works are not "outsider art" in the traditional meaning of artists who are self-taught and often work in isolation from other artists. But they do reflect the perspective of artists who had to challenge various forms of exclusion.

In response, these artists created a feminist aesthetic, Belasco explained.

The exhibit of over 30 paintings and several sculptures and decorative objects is largely drawn from The Jewish Museum's collection. It opens with Gestural and Abstract Expressionist paintings created at the dawn of feminism in postwar America.

Next come self-portraits that demythologize the female body and male representations of it. Feminist artists sought honest images of women, often portraying their own nude bodies.

The third group of works features embroidery, collage and fan painting as examples of the 1970s art movement, Pattern and Decoration, which sought to reinvigorate previously denigrated women's work and bring them into the realm of fine art.

Politics, the Holocaust and war drive works from the mid 1960s. Another section explores the use of writing and text in art. In the 1980s, feminist artists overcame the patriarchal associations of religions. Louise Fishman, Joan Snyder and other painters sought ways to represent values and rituals with texts, symbols, and calligraphic markings.

"Some artists drew on their own family histories of being in radical or leftist politics which was part of Jewish culture in the early 20th century," Belasco said.

"For artists who grew up in more religious households, Jewishness became another source of frustration," he said. "They had to put aside the patriarchal overtones of Judaism and find a place for women in Jewish culture and Jewish religion."

A final gallery is devoted to popular culture and satire as the gay and lesbian Jewish experience reopened debates about gender and representation in the 1990s.

Lee Krasner's "Gaea," 1966.Credit: AP