Barbara Kruger’s 1990 piece provides a satirical look over the white picket fences of suburban America in the 1950s and 1960s. What is this young woman doing as she peers through her magnifying glass? Why, inspecting for dirt of course! This image of woman as dirt detective addresses the plight of the suburban housewife; the empty, dead feeling a married suburban woman felt as she lived only to serve her husband and children.
Women’s issues such equal wages and equal job opportunities were propelled to the forefront in the 1960s with the help of feminist authors such as Betty Freidan and women organizations like the National Organization of Women and New York Radical Women. However, one of the most influential movements addressing important women’s issues was The Feminist Art Movement.
The Feminist Art Movement began in the late 1960s and paralleled the Feminist Movement occurring at the same time. Many women used art to claim ownership over their mind, spirit, and body. The movement addressed issues of men’s perception of women’s bodies, a male dominated art world, and worked towards making women artists more visible in art history discourse. The exhibition Women Artists of America: 1707 – 1964 at The Newark Museum in New Jersey, 1965 was influential in bringing women artists to the forefront of art history studies.
In 2007 the LAMOCA did a large exhibition presenting an historical overview of the role art played in the Feminist Movement. WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution focuses on the crucial period of 1965 – 80 in which the majority of feminist activism and artmaking occurred internationally. The exhibition is no longer showing, but the exhibition catalogue is still available for purchase.
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum has a strong mission committed to teaching, exhibiting, and preserving feminist art. The center is home to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-1979). This instillation is made of three long tables arranged into a triangle. There are 39 settings throughout the tables, representing 39 vaginas of 39 historical and mythical figures. 999 women’s names are inscribed upon the Heritage floor which the table stands on. Through this piece we see a woman artist giving women a voice in a history. The discourse of history was so commonly written by men of power about men of power. The Feminist Art Movement sought to expose this fact and change it. More pieces of this nature can be found through the center’s online Feminist Art Database.
Some Post-Modernists ask the question, “Is Feminism dead?” I don’t believe so. Reproductive rights, same-sex marriages, and the fight for equal pay are still hot button topics within today’s world. The growing commitment to collecting and promoting Feminist Art is indicative of the fact that feminists still walk among us. Institutions such as The Feminist Art Project at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and the Sackler Center for Feminist Art remind us that feminists are continuing to use art as a catalyst for social change.