Edition Jacob Samuel (2010)




May 23 – August 29, 2010

Jacob Samuel, a master printer and the art world’s “best-kept secret” has a life that many would envy. He gets artists to think “outside the box.” As publisher and printer of “Edition Jacob Samuel,” he does exactly what he wants—publishing prints by some of the most famous artists in the world and producing highly regarded editions of original works, prized by international museums. With few exceptions he works only with artists whose oeuvre he has admired and known for at least ten years, and, if he finds that a project is not going well, he simply backs away. Samuel, as the printer and publisher of his imprint, Edition Jacob Samuel (EJS), is completely in charge of his enterprise. After remaining discretely in the background, the printer is featured in the current exhibition at the Armand Hammer Museum, Outside the Box, which displays his entire Edition. For two decades, he has enriched the art world with an old-fashioned medium, etching, working quietly at the service of the artists. The exhibition currently on view features the total output of his publishing career, which has been jointly purchased by the Hammer and by the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.

The artists in Los Angeles have always independently produced what the trade knows as “artists’ books” and the city has always supported artists who wanted to produce prints. Print workshops such as, the Gemini G. E. L. and Tamarind Institute, are now world-famous. East Coast artists, who wanted to make prints, such as Jasper Johns, came to Los Angeles. Printmaking has been part of the West Coast’s artists’ fascination with materials and experimentation with process. These printmaking workshops were founded in the sixties when Los Angeles was not on the art map, or at last not on the mind of New York critics. Being on the Left Coast and far from the art game, artists in Los Angeles had the freedom to experiment without having to respond to an art market. Although artists, such as the printmaker, June Wayne, from Tamarind, are mostly famous in L. A., book and print artist, Ed Ruscha, is internationally renowned. Ruscha began his career with his series of laconic books, cataloguing the sights of the city, from palm trees to parking lots. His self-published books, which, at one time, you could buy for five dollars, include Every Building on Sunset Strip and my favorite, Royal Road Test. Nowhere are the unexpected possibilities of printmaking explored more inventively than with Ruscha, who has printed with blood, spinach juice, carrot juice, even chocolate, instead of ink.

Samuel honed his craft through a long-term collaboration with the Los Angeles artist, Sam Francis, who died in 1994. In comparison to the exuberant and complicated prints of Francis, the aesthetic of Edition Jacob Samuel is more restrained and reductive. Even though it would seem that Jacob Samuel’s selection of etching, which requires a certain level of exactitude, might constrain the artists’ inventiveness, the prints produced through Edition Jacob Samuel are full of surprises. Ruscha’s work with the printmaker is a case in point. The artist is famous, not just for his books and prints, but also for his paintings, which often feature signs. “Signs” has two meanings with Ruscha, first the familiar advertising signs that guide us, and second, the semiotic sense of sign, that is: signs carry meaning. In one of his better-known paintings, he artist presented the word “hotel” in vivid orange with the letters arranged vertically. The meaning of the arrangement went beyond the word and implied that the “hotel” in question is a cheap one. An expensive hotel always writes out its name in horizontal elegance, while a cheap hotel uses garish neon, economically fixed to the side of the building.

The trademark of Ed Ruscha’s work is the combination of image with text, with the text predominating over the image, until the text becomes the image. After decades of such visual-verbal puns and semiotic play, the prints Ruscha produced for the Edition, Blank Signs of 2004, take the play with signs one step further. In this series of prints, the signs are road signs in the desert, a place where one would need directions; but the signs are blank. The artist’s use of masking on the etching plate rendered the shape of the signs and their supports as ghostly shapes outlined against his delicate drawings of the desert terrain. The traveler is lost without any clues. Perhaps it was the desert winds, but the words are bleached away from the surface of the roadside signs, but the wit of the act of masking out the word play is clear to those who know the artist’s signature satirical style.

Ed Ruscha, like another artist featured in the show, John Baldessari, is local to Los Angeles and can make prints in the city. But what makes the work of Jacob Samuel different from that of Gemini and Tamarind is that artists do not have to come to his print studio; he can travel internationally, carrying his portable studio with him. When an artist comes to the printer’s workshop, he or she is not at “home,” so to speak. But Samuel comes to the artist’s studio where the artist has the full resources of the home studio at her disposal. Through his portable workshop, Samuel provides the printing materials and the artist provides the inspiration and then the portable studio is packed up and the printer goes home. A world famous artist is a busy person, Samuel states, and he respects the limited time of someone like Dan Graham, also in the show. The printmaker and the artist consult on the final result at long distance. The collaboration between the artist and the printer is that of the leader and the follower, the one who initiates and the one who carries out the instructions. Samuel insists upon being humble to not just the artist but also to the materials themselves.

The delicate relationship between the artist and printer are on view with the prints of the German artist, Rebecca Horn. For those of us in Los Angeles, our introduction to the artist was at her influential retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990. Although she had been a leading German conceptual artist since the late 1960s and she had taught in San Diego in 1974, like many European artists she did not get her due in America until mid-career. Her installations in Los Angeles were a revelation in artistic intelligence, but not every work could travel, for example, one of her most important early works, the Overflowing Machine of 1970. Now owned by the Tate, the original machine included a nude dark haired young man, standing immobilized on a pedestal, surrounded by tubes (one of Horn’s trademark materials) through which red blood coursed. The conduits of blood circulation ran up and down on the outside of his body, making the invisible visible.

Her recurring theme of blood reappeared in the series of prints made between Samuel and Horn. The two had met on the occasion of her retrospective in Los Angeles, but Horn was not interested in prints. She actively disliked the effect of the reversed image and said as much to Samuel who immediately offered to solve that problem. The solution was to ask a local supplier of Gampi paper to invent a form of transparent paper. The image could be executed and the print, on surprisingly strong transparent paper, could be flipped over, reappearing in a reverse of a reverse, according to the artist’s original intent. Working in Horn’s large well-appointed studio in Berlin, the printer set up his portable studio and let the artist have her way. Restricted to blood-stain red and to a paper the color of her creamy skin, the redheaded artist made a series of prints, one featuring blood cells, another with marks made from a log from her studio fireplace dragged over a plate, and still another “painted” with a bouquet of dried roses. Like many of the artists in this exhibition, Horn is a writer and is as well known for her poetry as she is for her art, and the poems interspersed among the images preexisted the prints.

Just as Horn scored her plates with found objects, such as twigs, Marina Abramovic scratched her plates with her fingernails. Discussing her Spirit Cooking with Essential Aphrodisiac Recipes of 1996, Samuel noted that Abramovic “performed” her prints, meaning that the process of execution became a performance for the performance artist. Each artist brought his or her unique art form to the experience of making prints. In 2004, Mona Hatoum used her hair as a drawing tool, with coils and strands placed carefully preserved on pieces of paper and then slowly slid onto the plate. The Anglo-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor, commissioned a very special set of colors, deliberately made to reiterate the soft velvety dry pigments of his early works. The result was a set of prints with deep and profound colors that resonated and seemed to lift off the paper. Meredith Monk sang to Samuel as she made her prints of musical scores, and close friend, the late Chris Burden, shared his many encounters with coyotes in Topanga Canyon, told in a school-boy’s handwriting for Coyote Stories of 2005. Each series of prints presents a new but familiar facet of the personality of each artist.

Jacob Samuel takes pleasure in providing opportunities to artists. His Santa Monica studio, located in one of the last un-gentrified blocks in the city, is clean and spare, but, in the window, floats a transparent print by Gabriel Orozco, a Lotus Leaf from 2003. The transparent print ascends above the heavy and gleaming printing press. Although he has an artistic degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts in the Bay Area, Samuel insists that he “does not think like an artist” but thinks technically. (Collectors of his paintings would disagree.) The son of immigrants from Wales—his grandfather peddled pins—he grew up in Malibu and Venice, when Venice was “Dogtown” and the “Z Boys” ruled. A long-time surfer, Samuel was interested in the Italian Arte Povera movement of the Sixties. Not unlike the post-war cinema of the Italian filmmakers who used ambient light and sound and untrained actors, the artists of the Arte Povera movement were fearless in striking out beyond the materials approved by fine arts at a time when painting ruled.

One of the veterans of the 1967 movement, the Greek artist, Jannis Kounellis, stepped out of his comfort zone in 1999 and produced a series of prints for Edition Jacob Samuel that were surprisingly delicate and lyrical. It is this fertile mix of Samuel’s interest in the historic discipline of prints, his reductive aesthetic, fueled by the concept of serial imagery of the sixties, and the willingness to be open to the possibilities of unexpected and unorthodox materials that gave rise to his imprint. Many of the artists featured are also writers who produce poetry or narratives, which respond to the images, or vice versa. Samuel employs a professional typographer to execute the pages of text, which have their own presence and yet are subordinate to the images. The rows of small spare prints are elegantly presented in simple and pale frames, hung side by side and while the series is under the name of the printer, “Jacob Samuel,” Outside the Box can also be thought of as a group show, featuring world famous artists. Oddly, collectors have not been interested in these print works and ninety percent of the purchases come from museums, which support the publisher’s efforts. For the art audience interested in the full range of an artist’s work, the exhibition, Edition Jacob Samuel, at the Hammer this summer allows the viewer a rare glimpse into the rewards of the collaboration between artist and printmaker.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Beginning Postmodernism: Forming the Theory


Coining the Term

“Postmodernism” was a term coined by Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) early in the century to refer to the last quarter of the 19th century, a time where capitalism and imperialism and Western civilization in general began to decline. For Toynbee, this new period, beginning in 1875 actually coincided with the modernist avant-garde in the art world of Paris. However, Toynbee examining a larger swarth of history and noted the rise of “mass:” mass culture, mass education and mass culture. When he died in 1975, the “post-modern” was already ninety years old but the intellectual world was just beginning to incorporate the concept. At first, in the art world, the term simply meant, “after” Modernism; but by the mid 1970s, Postmodernism came to refer more and more to a theoretical stance, rather than to a temporal event. If Toynbee’s concept of the masses could be applied to the art world it could be seen in the rise of the larger culture of women and people of color and other other artistic impulses to challenge the white male elite who painted large abstract paintings. The masses had come to break down the Modernist hegemony and to scatterer the “rules of art” into the fractured world of pluralism.

The collapse of the dominance of Modernism was a signal that a new questioning was occurring—a questioning of the entire basis of Western philosophy and its products. That new skepticism was called Postmodernism. By 1970 “modern art” had become a period style, a historical entity. The style of Modernism had evolved into a vocabulary of ornament and had developed into a grammar of available forms. Modernism was used as an international art language, which both dispersed its vocabulary but also thinned out its avant-garde origins. This concept of a single “style” or the morality of abstract art as being hegemonic broke down, and painting and sculpture, the best carriers for abstraction, declined as dominant art forms. Self-confined to the museum and gallery, modernist art was vulnerable to being challenged by artistic expressions that were not restricted to artistic traditions. The entry of the “theatrical” with installation art and the flight of environmental art from the “white cube” made the Kantian contemplation of the serenely independent art object impossible.

As art moved out of the museums and into the actual environment and new technologies took center stage, the entire epistemology of Modernist art began to disappear. As the younger generation of artists rejected the old tenets of the meaning and purpose of art, Modernism could no longer hold its own against the expansion of means of art making. Although there are multiple moments in time where one might see a Postmodern direction, this breakdown of Modernism and the rise of Pluralism probably preceded Postmodernism in the s consciousness of the art public. Postmodernism was a time and a period: after Modernism, but over time the differences between the two movements are becoming clearer. Despite Toynbee, the Postmodern in the world of the arts was a short shiver, a shaking off of Modernism for a pseudo style which rapidly aged and dated. While Modernism had a sound philosophical foundation, in the arts it was expressed largely through art criticism, from Stéphane Mallarmé to Clement Greenberg. In contrast Postmodernism was a pluralistic mélange of theoretical position or reinterpretations and re-readings of Modernist theories.

Modernism (1860-1960)

Modernism, as a movement, was opposed to popular or bourgeois taste and espoused the avant-garde stance of the alienated artist. Modernism, as a means of analyzing art, assumes a cultural equality of diverse art, critiqued through a formalist methodology which levels out difference. The work of art is a self-referential object in a self-critical relationship with itself and with its medium. The medium is the crucial determinant in the pursuit of identity, as the problem of art was perceived by Clement Greenberg was to eliminate surplus, such as “realism” or cultural or life-reference, which interferes with that which is qualitatively significant in art. Art must self-identify as a physical object and must suppress metaphor or symbolism–art could not “represent” anything but art. Therefore Modernism rejected what Clement Greenberg called “literary forcing” or a dependence upon the narrative.

The Modernist theories of Clement Greenberg were based upon Enlightenment models: Hegelian and Marxian and Kantian. Because these models were formal and answerable to large forces, such as “history,” art had to be isolated in order to respond appropriately to the critic’s grand narrative. The result is an internal contradiction: either art is relevant because it is an expression of an Enlightenment version of the human spirit or individuality or art is transcendent and is uninvolved with “the world” in which case, how can art be meaningful? As Marx pointed out, everything is pregnant with its own contradiction, and Postmodern artists reacted against transcendence and immanence. Pop artists were, like the Impressionists who worked a hundred years earlier, only reacting to the time honored advice: to be of your own time. By the 1960s, the Modernist imperative of pure art, transcending the ordinariness of banal reality had broken down to the point where aestheticians Arthur Danto and George Dickey had to cobble together a framework for judgment called “the institutional theory of art.”

Pre-Postmodern artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns began to borrow and appropriate to re-do that which had been done before, but from the perspective of distance and detachment. Eliminating Kantian universality of the disinterested judgment of art, the relativistic and pragmatic “institutional theory” had to be asserted in order to create the legitimacy of “copying” a Brillo box by Warhol and the fact that a difference had te be made between representation and resemblance. The idea of “artistic creativity” became re-defined as artists and art historians rediscovered Marcel Duchamp who seemed to answer the need to refute Modernism. Duchamp applied a Kantian disinterest to his art making practice and carried out detachment to the logical extreme of “indifference.” What happened to Modernism was that the critique which was at its heart twisted around and turned upon itself, emptying out its humanistic stance and replacing art with language. Perhaps due to the impact of Marcel Duchamp, postmodern art became more conceptual, exposing the hidden heart of of Modernism: representation. The Modernist artist “represented” humanity by “representing” individuality,” but the postmodern artist, thinking of Duchamp began making art that did not “represent” but was “about” an idea.

After the death of Duchamp, by the rebellious period of the seventies, Modernism became a partisan position, identified with American boosterism, Clement Greenberg, Eurocentrism, androcentrism, and an elitist mission to preserve high art. Modernism also became entangled with the politics of the times, echoing the imperialist attitude for American art and the heroic character of American art, which at the same time attempted to justify its exclusion of women and people of color. Modernism also became caught up in the rising tide of the highly profitable art market in New York which was able to co-opt avant-garde art and to transform a high style into a salable commonplace. Abstract art became vernacularized and with an affluent society invested in an increasingly consumer-based culture, the public lost the need for an “absolute” meaning for art. “Modern art” became another period style that was characterized by a perceptual, sensuous surface that was polyphonic and all over. The assumed self-integrity of the artist collapsed along with the conceit the significance of unity and centrality of consciousness.

Postmodernism (1980-2000)

Modernism’s “will to style” and its hierarchical way of thinking about art was rejected by the concepts of Postmodernism. Postmodernism questioned how value in art is determined and answered that value was a social construct and could never be independent. Human consciousness had always been psychically entangled with fine art, but postmodern philosophers dismantled the notion of the independent subject. Unity of consciousness was impossible to achieve, not necessarily desirable, and there was no final resolution of parts. It was previously assumed that “art” worked and existed in a dialectical situation with art being defined by what is “not art,” but Postmodernism accepts the notion of irresolution and incompleteness by recognizing the interdependent linguistic and conceptual overlap between “high art” and “low art.” Postmodern art appropriated plurality through the realm of quotation in the new historicism of Postmodernism which gives access to all styles, all of which are of equal validity. The only question is—not what it “means”—but how it’s all put together.

In this new age of Indifference, Pop Art was characterized by its supposed Cool, its apparent lack of passion and its reluctance to criticize the society that gave the artists visual inspiration. When Abstract Expressionism became too heavy a moral burden, when galleries began to see how profitable art could be, when artists became dazzled by the star system, Modernism was over and the disillusionment of something called Late Modernism or Postmodernism took the place of the innocence of pure art. The commercialization of art and artists and the commodification of the avant-garde could be foretold by a careful reading of Baudelaire who could have predicted art functioning as fad, fashion, and consumer good. As Foucauldrian socialist Pierre Bourdieu pointed out, an artistic strategy of legitimization, par excellence, was the “return to origins” or to the purity of the first rebellion. This “return” to an art for the people seen so strongly in the art of the Sixties and Seventies, was a form of longing for the comforts of a past that never existed but this nostalgia was one of the hallmarks of Postmodernism’s desire to look back and not forward.

In rejecting the futuristic position of the avant-garde, Postmodernism re-placed itself into the stream of history and in acknowledging the past, art underwent a sea change. One of the major distinctions between Modernism and Postmodernism is based upon the concept of a truth or of a transcendence. Modernism sought to transcend time and place. Modernism desired to be universal by passing over the particular and the local and the peculiar in favor of the absolute. Modernism, in its quest for transcendence will always attempt to remain pure, bounded, contained, seeking closure, to seal itself off from the world in order to rise above it. Modernism was created after the fact by theories, or “truisms,” that were merely ways of looking at and speaking about works of art, all devised and developed self-reflexively during the Modernist period. From the position of post-post-modernity, it seems clear that Postmodernism was a correction to Modernism, a difference obtained by asserting its polar opposite.

Postmodernism is a mega term, suggesting two possibilities. One is that “we” have evolved out of Modernism in that we have moved beyond Modernism and into another era, as not yet understood. The second prospect is that “we” have evolved out of Modernism through a new purification: we perceived the error of our ways. While once a work of art was perceived as an object separated from its context and from its signifying functions, Postmodernism, on the other hand, rejects the point of view that art stands alone. There is no escaping the literary dimension of all works of art, which are necessarily poetic, referential and metaphorical. Content, not form, becomes crucial and content is always historically mediated, created through and defined by history. Found styles, left over from history, are left intact so as to be recognizable but are sufficiently manipulated to suggest a novel aesthetic attitude. Postmodern painter and bricoleur David Salle exerted no effort to assimilate the parts into a formal unity of meaning.

In contrast to the Modernist effort to stabilize and sterilize through a limited vocabulary, Postmodernism combined art and theater in a frank theatricality that beckons to the now activated art audience who recognizes the references and joins in a game of play, sorting through the assemblage of historical quotations. The idea of “style” itself is bankrupt and the work of art is an assemblage, such that of Charles Ray, that refuses unity. Postmodernism, while unsure of its impact or to put it another way is reluctant to announce its self-importance, is concerned with how art communicates. For Rebecca Horn art is language and the relationship of the signifier to the signified depends upon the reaction of the spectator, making the work of art non-hermetic and readable. The result is a doubling of signifiers, a shorthand crowding of givens that are never explained only felt, that empties out art content. The givens of immediate perception have no ability to generate symbolic meaning. When the rhinoceros horns, “detached” from the animal’s theoretical body and crafted by Horn gradually move towards each other, when the tips “kiss” with electric eroticism, the Kiss of the Rhinoceros in 1989 is just a kiss.

Coming after high-flying Modernism, the Postmodern situation is one of belatedness, similar to the placement of Mannerism, coming after the High Renaissance. All one can do is to comment upon the precursor. Preferring intellectual scorn, postmodernism is ironic rather than openly rebellious. Postmodernist critiques of modern philosophy will note that Enlightenment concepts, such as Structuralism, depend upon figurative models of depth and division. Karl Marx built a model of society resting upon a base, which supported the superstructure, Sigmund Freud built a model of a divided but enclosed mind, segmented into sections and built upon two levels: the conscious and the unconscious, Ferdinand de Saussure built a model of language based upon boundary and enclosure, Claude Lévi-Strauss built a model based upon depth or seeking meaning below the surface of a narrative.

These Modernist philosophical architectonic models would later be critiqued as being figural and constructive metaphors, embedded in Enlightenment discourse, existing in an unquestioned condition. The architectonic tropes of the conceptual models were circular arguments that ignored the history of their own making but were reflections of Enlightenment thinking that sought answers and certainty, based upon the powers of the rational human mind and its powers. The guarantee of the efficacy of these models was the authenticity of presence which in turn was based upon desire–desire to resolve, desire to make sense of the world–that drives the structure of the model. Postmodernism would smash the carefully constructed models by reviewing philosophical writing as writing, as writing, as a form of literature. The theorists would deliberately read against the grain, feeling blindly for the elements that couldn’t quite be suppressed through rational and logical thinking. In a visual answer, postmodern art understood modernist art as a dictionary of dislocated languages to be deconstructed.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

The Influence of Feminism in Art


To examine the impact of feminist art upon mainstream art is to examine the long list of what was excluded or forbidden in the art world. For those outside this world, artists appear to be daring avant-garde experimenters, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the 1970s, the art world in New York was ruled by rules and old hierarchies were still powerful. Among the “thou shalt nots” were symbolism, narrative, figuration, representation, all of which Clement Greenberg considered to be “literary effects.” The art world followed the assumption that the male was the universal and the female was the particular. When the male artist spoke, he spoke for the world; when the female artist spoke, her language was personal. Therefore, abstract art (painting) was a universal language that reflected the aspirations of humanity and figurative painting could only be specific. Logically, it followed that women in their inherent limitations were incapable of being the fulcrum for human beings.

Although Postmodernism did not stress race or gender, post-colonialism critiqued both Western intellectualism and Postmodernism itself for assuming that the white male was the central actor in the metanarrative. In refuting the universal, Feminist art moved away from Modernism and located itself in Postmodernism. There could be no meta-narrative for women. Feminist art used all of the “forbidders” in art to present the personal and the particular and the local. Feminist art was symbolic: Judy Chicago’s flower and her butterfly are symbolic of the “feminine” whether anatomical or rhetorical. Feminist art was narrative: performances told stories of female servitude or suffering, such as Faith Wilding’s Waiting. Womanhouse was less an installation and more a metaphor of how the home became a trap for women and there they lived out their lives in tiny domestic dramas and endlessly repetitive acts.

Because there was embedded opposition to feminism and the feminist movement, the vanguard position of those women got little attention beyond reactionary refutation. From a distance of forty years, it is difficult to understand why feminism was not seen as part of Postmodernism. The most obvious answer is that the art world was not aware of Postmodern theory until the 1980s and feminism was better understood within an artistic context rather than in an intellectual context. Feminism was seen as nothing more than an irritating anti-formalist gesture outside of the mainstream of art. However while the art critics rejected feminist art, artists were watching and looking and seeing something new.

Feminism changed the definition of art, what it could do, what it could be; feminism widened the boundaries of art, where it could go, what it could include. Ironically, the leaders of feminism and the best works of feminist art were relegated almost at once to history as “examples of” a genre. The pioneers found themselves to be historical figures in their own lifetimes, often in mid -career. Historicization of feminism had the effect of sidelining its importance while appropriating its impact. The artists who benefitted from feminism were often male artists, such as Eric Fischl who was at the California Institute of the Art when Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were teaching in the Feminist Art Program. His figurative and representational paintings were intensely personal narratives, full of symbolism.

The new “presence” of women on the art scene alerted the art world to new voices and to the possibility that many other artists were also being excluded. However, unlike white women, women artists of color did not have the numbers or the institutional support to make the immediate impact and inroads into the art world. For example, the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta was uneasy about being among white women in the New York co-ops. Betye Saar noted that exhibitions by African-American women at the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles were not well-supported by white women. In fact women of any color were very much on their own. When asked why African-American males did not support the cause of women in the 1970s, art historian Samalla Lewis explained that the women of the Women’s Movement (seen as white) could always return to the society of the white male.

It would not be until the late 1980s and early 1990s when the new buzz word, Multiculturalism, became fashionable that artists of color were recognized under the somewhat condescending rubric of “politically correctness” in the art world. Today, the most infamous example of art world tokenism is the 1993 Whitney Biannual. In retrospect, it is judged to be a cynical gesture of inclusion in order to allow New York to return to the “normal” white male biases. Indeed in 2007, New York Magazine art critic, Jeffrey Saltz, did a survey of women in the Museum of Modern Art in his article Where are all the Women? Saltz wrote that, “…it has become bitterly clear that MoMA’s stubborn unwillingness to integrate more women into these galleries is not only a failure of the imagination and a moral emergency; it amounts to apartheid.”

Museums and galleries continue to discriminate against women. Saltz followed up his article about MOMA with a survey of six other institutions in New York City, Data, Gender Studies, and found the same dismal results. Despite the inclusion of women and people of color in the intellectual world of academia—as students, teachers, and as actors in history—the art world remains frozen in the sixties, denying the majority of the artists entry into a closed system. That said, the feminist movement may not have opened the doors of galleries or museums but it did open the minds of women to other possibilities of art making.

When one examines the history of the decades following the 1970s, it becomes clear that the women who survived and became prominent as artists did so by going into fields that were either new, such as performance or installation art, or less desirable, such as photography. Artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Rebecca Horn, Rachael Whiteread, Annette Messager, and Katharina Fritsch are “art stars,” and none of them does conventional or traditional art. As the dominance of painting diminished it was possible for women to renter this arena and Jenny Saville and Marlene Dumas achieved the success that painters of earlier generations longed for.

The increasing importance of women artists of color in the art world owes more to the efforts of individual women, such as Faith Ringgold and Betye Saar, than to the strong support of mainstream (white) artists or dealers. More and more women artists of color asserted themselves through political movements specific to their color, such as La Raza, even though most of these movements were patriarchal, to speak to their “own” people. Judy Bacca produced and directed one of the most remarkable works of art of the late twentieth century, The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1974-79), at the time it was the world’s longest mural. Faith Ringgold’s trenchant criticism of white power—her bleeding flags of the 1969s—gave way to charming children’s tales of life in Harlem and to commentaries on art history from the point of view of an African-American woman.

The strategies of Bacca and Ringgold represent two approaches or solutions to the “problem” of being both a woman and an artist of color in a white art world. Bacca reminded in the Chicano community of Los Angeles, dedicated to showing the history of minorities in the city. Ringgold’s art reached a plural and multicultural audience because her sharp social criticisms were filtered through irony, reflecting the turn towards “theory” in the 1980s. Twenty years later, Kara Walker was able to critique slavery through a complex use of white novels on slavery, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Benefiting from a savvy and aware art audience, these women could rely on the viewer to understand the sub-text of oppression and inequality and the lingering legacy of historical injustices.

Part of the breakdown of Modernism and formalism and of Pluralism, feminist art generated a new demand for more content-orientated subject matter in art. Feminism is no longer univocal, feminism has become a movement of many voices, male and female, Western and non-Western. Today, many young women do not identify themselves as “feminist,” fearing the negative stereotypes attached to the term. And yet, these very women have and will benefit from the goals of the Feminist Movement in politics and in art, stemming from the 1970s. Despite the on-going discrimination against women in the art world, today there are prominent artists who just happen to be women. The fact that these women rarely get a one person show in a major museum remains problematic.

Since the 1980s, women in American have experienced three decades of “backlash” but despite continuing opposition to their gains, some progress has been made. From 2008 to 2010, a woman was third in line from the American presidency. In 2008, a woman ran for the office of President in America. That women, Hillary Clinton, became the Secretary of State from 2008 to 2012. European women and African women have a far better track record. A woman is chancellor of Germany, a woman ran for the office of President in France, a woman runs the International Monetary Fund, woman has been prime minister of England and in 2012 three female peace activists, Liberians Ellen Johnson and Leymah Gbowee won the prize along with Tawwakul Karman of Yemen, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is hoped that everyone will benefit from hearing the voices of the many instead of the few.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]