Twice as many women as men choose to study art in college and grad school, but only 15% of museum shows feature art by women. That’s according to the Smithsonian Institution. On this hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, museums around the country are also giving female artists a say.
A new show at the Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg features five of the top female artists working today. I’m standing in the gallery with curator, Margo Crutchfield, surrounded by vivacious and audacious sculptures, by internationally renowned artist Chakaia Booker. Her abstract pieces are made entirely of cast off tires.
“They are made out of shredded, twisted torqued and forged tires, nd when you’re touching it …(Reporter) “Oh my goodness, it’s sharp!”
Crutchfield Titled the show “Fierce Women.”
“For an artist to wrestle with that material, that struck me as, ‘this person is fierce,’ because it's such a vigorous material and difficult to work with.”
Everything about this said ‘fierce,’ to Crutchfield. “And fierce, not just in the material or the dominating presence that these works and the other artists in the show also have, but also this quality of not so much aggressiveness but daunting, sending out a message, speaking out with forceful honesty and clarity.”
‘Fierce Women’ features works by the Guerrilla Girls, an artists’ collective known for plastering signs all over New York and beyond, that call out the lack of female artists being shown in galleries, let alone top museums.
“They’re anonymous. That's why they wear gorilla masks, so that no one knows who they are. And they've evolved through several generations, so different people at different times there had been up to 55 of them.”
And they’re still at it. “Fierce Women” also features the internationally acclaimed artist, Jenny Holzer, who speaks quite literally in her work, in lights running across huge screens, like you’d see on a train station schedule, that is, until you realize it’s the mad hatter communicating to you in strange and entrancing ways.
“One of her suites is called, ‘survival,’ “In a dream you were full of joy” that’s a lyrical one, but there’s some that are not, like “The beginning of war will be a secret.”
There is an installation of Holzer’s work, running in a continuous loop, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The artist, Rozeal Brown’s painting meld Japanese geisha, and samurai strains with hip hop references that turn the image of the docile geisha girl upside down. Crutchfield tells me, “Rozeal said that geishas are the fiercest women of all.”
The show is a 40-year retrospective on these artists, overlooked by leading curators for most of their careers, but this show seems to signal, those days are over.
“I think the “Me Too” movement has a lot to do with it” says Crutchfield. It's women who are standing out speaking out, taking a position.”
Marylin Minter is known for speaking her mind in her life and her art. Her sensual and sexually explicit work pulls no punches.
“I really believe that nobody has politically correct fantasies.” She’d been outspoken and a taboo breaker since she was a child, she told me. “And I, I thought it was time, it was 1989 and I thought it was time for women to have their own porn for their own amusement and their own pleasure.”
She says she always considered herself a feminist, “but I got accused of being a traitor to feminism and, I got sort of thrown out of the art world. But the internet came along and basically my side won.”
Who gets to see whose art, she says, is no longer decided by a select few.
“Curators have to pay attention to other voices. It's a real healthy thing for everybody.”
Fierce Women opens Thursday (January 29th) at the Moss Arts Center. There will be a series of talks by Virginia Tech Professors they’re calling, “Art Herstory.”
For information about the exhibit click here.
***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.