When feminism broke through to mass culture four decades ago, women artists revolutionized the contemporary art world with works that set the gender status quo on its head. It was a bold turn, to say the least, at a time (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) when Western society had reached a critical crossroad that fundamentally rejected not only the dominant patriarchy but also the deeply ingrained politics of racial and class discrimination. These were the formative years of identity politics and a call to action that remains—sadly, and with great irony—rather current.
This crucial history considered, it’s taken some time for a comprehensive roundup of feminist-inspired art to make its way onto the major exhibition circuit. That wait ends with “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an expansive international survey of works by 120 key artists curated by Connie Butler for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and which opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery this Friday.
The frame of reference for “WACK!” covers the heady years 1965 to 1980, with the stalwarts of the feminist art revolution all present—Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Mary Kelly, Yayoi Kusama, Linda Montano, Carolee Schneemann and Adrian Piper among them—along with contributions by pioneering Canadian artists Lisa Steele, Suzy Lake, Colette Whiten, Kate Craig, Aganetha Dyck and Evelyn Roth.
While it remains impossible to make any overarching promises in such a wide-ranging show, the exhibition manages to reopen discussions on the shifting impact of the women’s movement (and other political influences) on the broader issues of gender, the body, race and sexuality. Also interesting is the fact that much of this work was made in tandem with developments in audio and video technologies, as well as then-new strategies of performance and conceptual art, a fact that offers a revealing parallel study of the foundational place of feminist art in the evolution of contemporary art practice.
To coincide with the exhibition’s opening, the gallery has organized a weekend of lectures and panel discussions featuring an impressive cast of “WACK!” artists and led by keynote addresses from art historians Griselda Pollock and Abigail Solomon-Godeau. (750 Hornby St, Vancouver BC)