In the past week I (finally) went to see the related, but very different, shows featuring feminist art from the 1970’s and 80’s, WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at PS 1 and “Making It Together” at the Bronx Museum. While WACK! is a and sprawling show taking up two floors of PS1’s rabbit warrens of galleries, Making It Together occupies a small, pink room of the Bronx Museum’s North Building. WACK! has been heavily critiqued since it’s opening in LA last spring and I don’t want to regurgitate those critiques here. My main beef with the show was this: if I came in knowing nothing about feminism or feminist art, I certainly would not leave with any clear idea about what it was, is, or could be. The show feels static and dried out. There are very few wall labels or didactics that discuss who the artists were or the context in which the art was produced. While PS 1 and the LA MOCA had many public programs exploring these themes, there is no evidence of them in the galleries. WACK!’s installation at PS1 has sucked the energy, anger, messiness, collaboration and hope out of feminist art. It is very white and looks, well, very 1970’s. While it was fantastic to see some works in person, the “why” was completely ignored and I left feeling like I might of well have just stayed home and read the catalogue.
By contrast “Making It Together,” curated by Carey Lovelace, explores the moment where feminist artists collaborated to create no only art, but social change. Of course they featured Heresies, Womanhouse, and the founding of galleries such as A.I.R. They also included collectives I did not know about such as Spiderwoman Theatre, the Waitresses (shown here marching), and Judy Baca’s large community mural project in downtown L.A. Each section of the show included a clearly written wall label (in both English and Spanish) and the catalogue was a free, takeaway, so you could take it with you in case you didn’t want to spend your whole time in the gallery reading. While the collective projects features were still overwhelmingly white, the Bronx Museum show did a much better job of contextualizing feminism and feminist art. It showed women responding to pertinent issues of the day (sexism, the wage gap, war, violence against women, racism, poverty, the roles given to women in society, etc…) with creativity, rage and humor. It begs the question what is being done now to continue this legacy. A little bit of an answer is given by the large mural that you see when you enter the museum collectively painted by women graffiti artists including Lady Pink and Too Fly, and behind this, selections from the museums’ permanent collection including work by Adrian Piper, Ana Mendieta, Tania Brugera and Carrie May Weems. The Bronx Museum has done what WACK! did not, which is emphasize that feminism is a living breathing entity, and it, like revolution, must be rooted in community, collaboration and exchange.