For a recent project that involved many hours of train travel, my companion was a book by Lucy Lippard, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art, which I’ve added to the list of books that I wish I’d read a long time ago.
In 1976, when From the Center was published, I was reading a lot of feminist political writing and a lot of dance history and dance criticism, but I wasn’t reading much visual art history or criticism. The book has filled in some gaps and raised some questions:
· On women wanting to be recognized by the art world, Lippard notes the “conflict about getting a piece of the pie, even if it’s poisonous.” Is that conflict resolved? Now that women artists are marginally more likely to be offered a piece of the pie, is it any more appetizing than it was back then? (And a piece of the contemporary art world “pie”—if it materializes in an artist’s career at all—is still almost always offered, regardless of how many artists sell their work online, how many art school graduates present their own exhibitions, how many small galleries open their doors). Do we want the pie or don’t we? Well, is the poison deadly?
· The catalogue for the LA County Museum of Art’s (in)famous “Art and Technology” exhibition in 1971 featured 50 men on its cover. “The museum’s statement in defense was to the effect that women were no good so they didn’t have to deal with them.” What would such an exhibition be if it were re-imagined now?
· Things I’d forgotten about Louise Bourgeois: “she majored in mathematics at school, took her baccalaureate in philosophy, and studied calculus and solid geometry at the Sorbonne.”
· Artists whose work I need to know a whole lot more about: Nancy Graves (especially her Reflections on the Moon), Mary Miss (About her Battery Park Landfill, Lippard writes, “You are standing outdoors; you have approached something which appears flimsy and small in its vast surroundings, and now you are inside of it, drawn into its central focus, your perspective aggrandizing magically.” Although I suspect the perspective effect wasn’t magic, but geometry.) and every one of the Twenty-Six Contemporary Women Artists that Lippard included in the first exhibition of women’s art she curated, in 1971 (including Glorianna Davenport, whom I’ve known for years as a filmmaker, but whose early work is still utterly unknown to me).
Being guided into the past by Lucy Lippard makes me want to hurry in the present—to make the best exhibitions, to understand and show the best art, to learn everything and tell it all. They’re ambitions unlikely to lead to offers of pie.
Even though it sure does look good.