Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968
"Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” —John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)
Much of the ribald humor that became synonymous with Pop art involved exploitive and misogynistic images of women. While the male artists of the Pop movement could easily remove themselves to a cynical distance from those subjects, women were the subject of most of that work. This exhibition looks at how women artists experimented with Pop art images, materials, and techniques, making significant contributions to the movement, despite the restrictive attitudes of the time.
The decade this exhibition encapsulates, 1958 to 1968, witnessed the emergence of the modern feminist movement—which would only fully come into its own after Pop art had already firmly established itself. In the changing climate after 1968, such a complete relegation of women artists to minor or nonexistent roles would no longer be possible, leaving Pop art with the dubious historical distinction of being one of the last major art movements largely to exclude women artists from its official history.
Using images and texts appropriated from popular culture, Pop artists also experimented with new materials and techniques not typically associated with the fine arts. Their strategies for bringing the commonplace and utilitarian into art included, perhaps most significantly, using sewing methods to build soft and pliable sculptural objects. In addition to sewing and other craft techniques, women who worked in the Pop idiom made use of commercial processes such as screenprinting, and industrial materials such as neon lights and plastic products, as well as incorporating found objects.
Seductive Subversion expands our understanding of Pop art to include recognized artists who have not traditionally been seen as being part of the movement while also bringing to light work by others who are lesser known and undervalued. At the same time, it broadens the definition of the movement to embrace work that more overtly reflects personal experience, adding layers to Pop art that only make it richer and more complex.
May 31, 2010:
The first major exhibition to explore in depth the contributions of female Pop artists, Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968, seeks to expand the definition of classic Pop art and re-evaluate the role of the women who worked alongside the movement’s more famous male practitioners. It features more than fifty works by Pop art’s most significant female artists and includes many pieces that have not been shown in nearly forty years. The exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and in the adjacent fourth-floor Schapiro Wing galleries.
Although radical social changes were taking place in America in the 1960s, the female Pop artists of the time remained largely unacknowledged by the contemporary art critics and academics. Relegated to the margins of history by discrimination, historical precedent, and social expectations, these women were forced to take a back seat to their male counterparts, who became icons of the era. Informed by their personal histories, the work of female Pop artists was often collaborative and incorporated empathetic social commentary.
Seductive Subversion includes Marisol’s John Wayne sculpture, commissioned by Life magazine for an issue on movies; the French sculptor, painter, and filmmaker Niki de Saint Phalle’s eight-foot-tall Black Rosy, one of her “Nana” sculptures exploring the role of women; Rosalyn Drexler’s oil and acrylic work Chubby Checker, inspired by the poster for the movie Twist around the Clock, and Home Movies, based on frames from old gangster movies; the Times Square–inspired Ampersand, a multilayered, stylized, and illuminated neon ampersand in a Plexiglas cube by Chryssa, one of the first artists to utilize neon in her work; and a seventeen-foot-long triptych by Idelle Weber. Artwork has been loaned by the National Gallery; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.); the Neuberger Museum (Purchase, New York); and major private collectors.
Works from the Brooklyn Museum’s holdings have been added exclusively for the Brooklyn exhibition. They include Squeeze Me and You Can’t Catch Me by Mara McAfee; Dear Diana and My Love We Won’t by Niki de Saint Phalle; Nestle’s Box by Marjorie Strider; and Cents Sign Travelling from Broadway to Africa via Guadeloupe by Chryssa, which will be on display at the Museum for the first time. Paintings and sculptures by Evelyne Axell, Pauline Boty, Vija Celmins, Dorothy Grebenak, Kay Kurt, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Lozano, Mara McAfee, Barbro Ostlihn, Faith Ringgold, Martha Rosler, Marjorie Strider, Kiki Kogelnik, Marta Minujin, and May Wilson will also be featured.
Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968 was organized by the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The Brooklyn presentation is coordinated by Catherine Morris, Curator of the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the University of the Arts Press and Abbeville Press.