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The women of pop art

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Sachs's essay in the exhibition catalog contains ample evidence of discrimination in the decade prior to the burgeoning women's movement of the 1970s. Women seeking admission to art schools were judged not by their portfolios but by their profile photographs. Jann Haworth, who invented soft sculpture (although Claes Oldenburg is given credit) recalled, "The girls were there to keep the boys happy." American artist Carolee Schneemann confirmed, “You had to shut up and affiliate yourself with really interesting men,” adding, “you had to be good looking.”

Nancy Heller, professor of modern art also at the University of the Arts and author of "Women Artists: An Illustrated History," notes that progress lagged well into the 1970s and '80s. "It was difficult to convince a committee in graduate school that any woman artist – dead or living – was worth a dissertation." Museums and galleries were also a no woman's land. "If you saw a major exhibition by a woman," Professor Heller recalls, "it was a cause for celebration and shock."

Museums now are in a do-over moment. Exhibitions displaying female artists abound. Exhibitions such as “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” (2007-08), the Brooklyn Museum’s “Global Feminisms” (2009), and “elles@centrepompidou” (through February 2011 in Paris) display female contributions. New York's Jewish Museum hails pioneers with "Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism" through Jan. 30, and the Museum of Modern Art features "Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography" through March 21.

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