Last night I went with some friends to see WAR (Women Art Revolution),a film by Lynn Hershman Leeson. It isn't a great film in the sense that it is a bit all over the place visually and in the storyline, but it is a great film in that it presents intimate, first hand interviews with the most important artists from the Feminist art movement, most of them filmed in the filmmaker's living room. In fact, one thing that becomes clear is that a lot of the feminist movement, art and otherwise, happened in living rooms with just a handful of people deciding they have had enough. We should remember that.
(photo of Suzanne Lacy in her film, "Where Meat Comes From", 1976.)
One of my companions who is herself something of a Feminist mover and shaker of the Third Wave variety, thought the movie emphasized too much the early works made by women who got fed up being fed an art history that pretended that women didn't even exist. She is right that it somewhat glosses over what came afterwards - work that injects more humour into the message and explores the issues with less dogma and more complexity. Personally, I was totally digging everything about the early work last night, including how it was so serious and ernest. I even was loving its dated-ness, but especially the way the artists knew they were changing something just by getting together, meeting and talking without any male presence to validate the experience.
It feels very innocent now but also sincere and wonderful and angry (and rightly so). Even Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, a piece that I have turned my nose up at more than once, found a new place in my heart when I saw footage taken from 1990 in the House of Representatives with various representatives (all male, all white) explaining why they wanted to pass a bill (a bill!) that would forbid The Dinner Party from being shown in a government-funded art institution in Washington DC.
"I do not want to see 39 ceramic versions of women's vaginal areas!" one of them sputtered (to big laughs in the theatre, I have to add). His comment left me wondering about male vaginal areas, but I digress.
One of the most alarming scenes in the movie, for me, however was taken much more recently. In 2006, the filmmaker stood outside the Whitney Museum on Madision Avenue and asked museum-goers to name three women artists. No one could.
Clearly there is work still to be done. The filmmaker has set up a website that is intended to be an archive of women's art - women are invited to upload their projects there. I haven't given it more than a quick look but you can check it out.