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Wikipedia and the Women of Pop Art

I was thrilled when Shelley and Catherine Morris, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, approached me about working on this Wikipedia project for Seductive Subversion.  Knowing that Wikipedia is often one’s first, if not last, source for information, I was excited to have a hand in shaping what that information might be with regards to the women artists featured in our upcoming exhibition.

An initial search on Wikipedia revealed that only 14 of the 25 artists featured in Seductive Subversion had existing Wikipedia pages. Of those pages, at least three qualified as “stubs” (short article in need of expansion).  The remaining 11 artists had no Wikipedia presence at all, except Barbro Östlihn, about whom there is a small paragraph featured on Swedish Wikipedia.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to find Wikipedia entries for all the artists in Seductive Subversion. After all, a good number of them, such as Mara McAfee, Dorothy Grebenak, and Kay Kurt, have been virtually forgotten over the years.  But I simply couldn’t believe that many celebrated artists, including May Stevens, Dorothy Iannone, and Lee Lozano, had no Wikipedia presence whatsoever, while Pauline Boty, Britain’s reigning “Queen of Pop,” had one paltry paragraph dedicated to her brief but stellar life.

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So I knew I had my work cut out for me. Over the summer and early fall I created and expanded pages for the artists who needed them most.  In so doing, I learned a great deal about their lives. Who would have guessed, looking at Evelyne Axell’s psychedelic nudes, that she had learned to paint by taking private lessons with René Magritte?  Or that Rosalyn Drexler, in addition to being a Pop artist, was also an award-winning playwright and one-time Mexican wrestler? The more I learned—of Letty Eisenhauer’s rousing performances at early Happenings, Boty’s friendship with Bob Dylan, McAfee’s hilarious illustrations for National Lampoon—the happier I was to know that the biographies of these remarkable women would soon be widely available.

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Of course, getting all these great anecdotes to appear on Wikipedia presented somewhat of a challenge.  After a few meetings with Shelley, and with the patient help of several Wikipedians over live chat and page discussions, I mastered the basics of WikiMedia editing.  I learned how to create sections within articles, make bulleted lists, insert block quotes, and, most fun of all, hyperlink to other Wikipedia articles.

Creating hyperlinks led to a fair amount of insight into the Pop Art landscape on Wikipedia.  It was interesting to see which personalities of the 1960s art world were well represented, and which were not.  I was hard pressed to find a male Pop artist who didn’t have a Wikipedia page.  Even the gallerists who represented them, men like Leo Castelli, Sidney Janis, and Arne Glimcher, merited their own articles. Meanwhile Jill Kornblee, a New York City art dealer who represented women artists like Drexler and Kurt in the early 1960s when male gallerists simply would not, remains without a page. Even the Wikipedia entry for Pop Art, which traces the style’s evolution in five different countries and tells of myriad male artists’ accomplishments, makes only passing reference to two women artists—Niki de Saint Phalle and Marisol.  On this page, I added several more women to the list of “Notable artists” included towards the end, a small and admittedly insufficient remedy for the glaring omissions in the text above.

The artists featured in Seductive Subversion deserve to be better integrated into the narrative of Pop Art, in text books, on museum walls, and, yes, even on Wikipedia.  What I’ve done is simply lay the groundwork for their presence on this popular site, in the hopes of generating deeper interest in their lives in work amongst visitors to our exhibition and the general public alike. The pages featured on the iPads in our galleries, like all Wikipedia pages, are continually being updated.  Already Wikipedians have begun contributing to the pages I created just a few weeks ago.

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I encourage you all visit these articles, but more than that, I hope you will join us in the project of revising Wikipedia to be ever-more inclusive and mindful of its lacunae.

This post is part of a three-part series on Wikipop.