May 25, 2021

Feminism in Modern Contemporary Art 4 | Feminist Art

The most significant part of this weeks lecture was the video documentary, it was really interesting to watch. I enjoyed seeing how the selection of women shown in the video contributed and changes art history for future women artists.

I also enjoyed critically looking at Barbara Kruger. You Are Not Yourself 1981 [referenced below] we examined the image as a group and some of the themes and comments discussed are noted in bullet form below:

  • You are not yourself – personal pronoun – near breakdown?
  • Who is “you” addressing? all women?
  • fragmented self, not just one aspect to the seld, multiple aspects
  • the idealised version of a woman, constructed image, make-up- images of self
  • image of how others see us and the image we perceive ourselves to be, don’t believe what you see
  • not being put together
  • Adverts “this is who you are” but negative and condescending
  • Women – too emotional

“Barbara Kruger. You Are Not Yourself 1981, a work of appropriation art You Are Not Yourself depicts a woman examining herself in a mirror that has presumably been struck and shattered by a bullet.

Critics have discussed the gendered implications of the image, noting that the woman’s shattered reflection suggests the existence of women in society is inherently fragmented. Women are held to many standards and forced to adopt conflicting roles only to become an amalgamation of other’s expectations and assumptions; when a woman finally has a moment for self-reflection (or, as Kruger suggests, a chance to catch a glance in the mirror) she finds that she is “not herself”. The text itself resembles crudely cut and pasted letters that create a jarring tone and echo the theme of breaking. Some critics interpret the image as a call for viewers to consider their own subjectivity and evaluate the societal messages that they may be receiving.

The use of pronouns in Kruger’s work is often discussed as a potential source of meaning. In You Are Not Yourself, questions have been raised about the identity of the subject that Kruger hails: who is the “you” in question? You Are Not Yourself features a shattered mirror that has been interpreted to symbolize the reflection of each unique viewer, suggesting that the embedded message is directed towards everyone who views the piece.

“women are held to many standards and forced to adopt conflicting roles only to become an amalgamation of others expectations and assumptions, when the woman finally catches a glance at herself in the mirror she finds that she is now herself”

Barbara Kruger: Your gaze hits the side of my face , 1945.

Barbara Krueger work in advertising and the influence of early photomontages from Dadaists lead her to using appropriated media imagery to subvert their message. She created a commentary on women’s role in and experiences of the late capitalist culture (e.g. their relationship to consumerism) and challenged gender sterotypes.
Her aesthetic language she used lent itself to posters, which she displayed in large-scale on billboards and buildings in the urban areas.

The design and layout of the magazine covers used within the fashion industry influenced her visual language. She used short and catchy phrases/titles, often with ironic undertones. There is an aspect of parody in her wordplay.

Deconstructing the images: taking an image that is familiar, common, naturalised, and demonstrate active ideological connotations within the image through visual/textual alterations. Thereby, a visual/textual message is reinterpreted, inviting the viewer’s critical reflection.

Other notes

Judith Chicago – became involved in the Women’s Right Movement in the late 1960s. She led the first art educational

programme focused on feminism and women’s experience – called the Feminist Art Program (FAP) with Miriam Schapiro.

Red Flag was one of her early controversial pieces. Red flag is a reference to Communism: individuals involved in the rights movements were often labelled as communists (society’s mainstream had a hostile attitude towards any left-wing politics).

The Dinner Party (1974-79) – is the most iconic early piece of Feminist Art, a large, multi‐media installation. 3 tables arranged in the shape of a triangle with 39 place settings.

39 place settings dedicated to distinguished women from prehistory to the mid-1970s. Each place setting has an embroidered table runner that includes the name of the woman, utensils, a goblet, and a plate. Additional 999 names are inscribed on the glazed porcelain brick base that supports the table.

Each plate on the table varies in design, having either 2D decorative vulvar patterns or a 3D vulvar form. This anatomical reference has been used by Chicago since running the FAP.

Symbolic use of numbers: 3 – stands for the Trinity; and 13 is the number of diners at the Last Supper.

  • 3 Wings:
  • From Prehistory to the Roman Empire;
  • From the Beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation;
  • From the American to the Women’s Revolution.
  • Names included: Ishtar (Mesopotamian goddess), Kali (Hindu goddess), Sappho (Greek poet); Elizabeth I, Artemisia Gentileschi (Baroque painter); Virginia Wolfe, Georgia O’Keeffe, Sojourner Truth (American abolitionists, women rights activist).



Sandra Orgel, Ironing,1972; from a Womanhouse performance. The artist ironed sheets and linens continuously, as the sheets/linens piled up on the floor and wrinkled.

Sandra Orgel’s Linen Closet, 1972 – featuring a female mannequin literally coming out of the closet full of ironed sheets – is possibly one of the better-known works from Womanhouse. The work addresses women’s unpaid labour at home and its repetitiveness.

Sandra Orgel’s Linen Closet, 1972

Nancy Spero, The Dance, 1993; 7 colour silkscreen on 29 gsm Kawanaka Paper,

Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers, 1999; mosaic on 66th Street/Lincoln Center Subway Station, New York City, installed in 2004

Torture of Women, 1976 (14-pannel 125 foot-long collage that pair accounts of female torture victims with willowy,

mythical figures). This collage took two years to complete. It connects ancient mythology and history with modern accounts of torture, oppression and resistance. Mythological references are merged with written first-person

accounts by torture victims, quotes from the newspapers on missing women, and definitions of torture from the 13th

and 20th centuries.

“Nancy Spero’s Torture of Women is a seminal work in the history of contemporary art. A model of how appropriated words and images from multiple sources can be spliced and shaped into a forceful, coherent statement about the sexual, social, political, and existential dilemmas and dynamics of the modern world […]. Someday the hatred and cruelty inscribed in Spero’s work may be a thing of the past, but so long as they blight the world, and so long as women confront state violence with the courage that Spero also commemorates, this work will be a testament to the fact that committed art can speak truth to power”. Robert Storr, curator and art critic.

Guerrilla Girls

is an anonymous group of feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. Formed in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality into focus within the greater arts community. Posters and billboards, and public appearances to expose discrimination and corruption. Gorilla masks and use pseudonyms that refer to deceased female artists for anonymity. Criticised for lack of diversity within the group and not looking at intersectional feminism and the connotations for black women with the choice of mask.

Guerrilla Girls Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989

This week we looked at Shigeko Kubota, Vagina Paintings (documentation of the Fluxus performance at the Summer Perpetual Fluxus Festival, November 4, 1964). The piece can be interpreted as a response to the hyper-masculine

tendencies within the ‘action painting’ (associated with abstract expressionism – such as Jackson Pollock). But it could be a reference to Japanese context: a practice of poorer geishas to write calligraphy with brushes inserted in their vaginas, as a form of entertainment. Kubota references a lot of work by Duchamp (Nude coming down the stairs)

We looked at the performance art of VALIE EXPORT, Feminist Activist Performances, such as Tapp- und Tast-Kino (Tap and Touch Cinema); performance with Peter Weibel in Munich, Stachus square, 1968. Where men in the street were invited to place their hands inside of a cardboard box which EXPORT wore to feel her nude body underneath. Tactile aspect of cinema, challenges women as passive object/ voyeurism. She used her body as an activating experience as they touched her. Reinforces/questions the subjectiveness of the female body. Provocative – she showed what she wanted to. An alternative to cinema seen as a space for male fantasies, changing the relationship between spectator and screen.