Category: Feminist art

Reclaiming the “F” Word

Feminist poster from Sri Lanka

[ Rural Women Unite Against Violence - Anonymous silkscreen poster from Sri Lanka, produced in the early 1970s. Created for the Network of Rural Women’s Groups/Baddegama, Sri Lanka. On display at Reclaiming the "F" Word. ]


Mentioned on this web log from time to time, L.A.’s irreplaceable Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) has once again curated an exhibit of great importance to designers, artists, and activists. Reclaiming the “F” Word: Posters on International Feminisms, will premier at the California State University Northridge Art Galleries. Reading from the CSPG press release for the exhibit:

“The national and international posters in this exhibition reflect a deepening awareness that women’s struggles, women’s leadership and women’s activism throughout the world challenge oppressive conditions in diverse and creative ways. Posters from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America explore class, race and gender as they show women at the forefront of struggles for human rights and social change.

Powerful graphics depict diverse feminist issues from the suffragettes to the activism of the 1970s to today. The family unit, childcare, labor, ecology, trafficking and violence are just some of the topics covered. Posters show women organizing against the Viet Nam War and against Apartheid in South Africa. They decry the ongoing murders of women in Juarez, Mexico and use of rape as a military weapon in Darfur, Sudan.”

After its premier at CSUN, Reclaiming the “F” Word will travel nationally and internationally under the auspices of the CSPG. The exhibit is the result of a call for Feminist poster art issued by the CSPG in April 2007, an appeal that I eagerly published on this web log. While it is obviously too late to submit entries to Reclaiming the “F” Word, the organization excepts submissions of posters to their archives the year round. The CSPG collection of historic and contemporary graphics dealing with social change movements currently numbers at around 50,000 unique pieces.

Reclaiming the “F” Word runs at the California State University Northridge Art Galleries from June 3 to July 3, 2008. An Opening Reception for the show takes place on Saturday June 7, 2008, from 2 to 5 pm. The gallery is located at 18111 Nordhoff Street Northridge, CA 91330. There is no admission charge for the exhibit but parking is $5.00. For more details visit the CSPG website.

Peace, Love, and Crass Art

[ UPDATE - Gee Vaucher's exhibit, Introspective, will be on display in Los Angeles from April 12 through May 3, 2008 at Track 16 Gallery. ]

Mostly known for the remarkable graphics she produced for the late 70’s British anarchist punk band Crass, Gee Vaucher continues to create extraordinarily insightful imagery that strips away society’s veneer to reveal hidden truths. Introspective, her current exhibit at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco, gives further evidence of her importance as a socially conscious artist for our time. Vaucher’s exhibit opened on Dec. 14, 2007, and surprisingly… San Francisco’s local NBC affiliate dropped-in to cover the opening. Click here to view NBC’s slideshow of the event, which gives a pretty good visual summation of the evening as well as showcasing the quality of Vaucher’s art.

Artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Liberty - Gee Vaucher. Gouache and pencil on paper. 2006? ]


Vaucher’s proficiency at drawing serves as the rock solid foundation for her art, and she calls upon traditional skills to create her complex paintings. Even as a young art student, it was clear that Vaucher had a natural talent for figurative realism, but possessing and utilizing time-honored methods does not necessarily lead to conventional artworks - and one would be mistaken to call Vaucher’s works “conservative.” Another misjudgment would be to accept the commonly held view of punk aesthetics as minimalist, crude, mindless, and intentionally designed to repulse. Vaucher’s early works for Crass were intellectually sophisticated, technically well crafted, and dare I say - beautiful. Full of narrative and profound meaning, they wielded a social critique as pertinent today as when they first appeared decades ago. If at times Vaucher’s works seem a bit obscure in a surrealist manner, they are always clear in communicating a love of humanity and utter contempt for despotism.

Student artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Life drawing - Gee Vaucher. Pencil on paper. 1954. Sketch of a live model done in art college. ]


Vaucher visited Los Angeles in 2000 for a limited speaking tour, where I was fortunate enough to exchange a few brief words with her on the subject of art and politics. Many people have assumed that her works were, and are, pure assemblages of photographic materials. As she explained to me, much of her work isn’t photomontage or collage at all - but hand drawn imagery created in pencil and water based gouache paint.

The painting Who Do They Think They’re Fooling? - You?, now on view at the Jack Hanley Gallery, is a perfect example of Vaucher’s didactic method and hyperrealist technique. Created in 1980 as cover art for the 7″ Crass single, Bloody Revolutions, Vaucher based her artwork on a famous photo of the Sex Pistols, but the members of the mock band presented in her painting consisted of the Queen of England, Pope John Paul II, the Statue of Liberty, and Margaret Thatcher. If the Pistols were a rock ‘n roll swindle, Vaucher was telling us, then the icons in her artwork represented the ultimate ruling class con job.

Artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Who Do They Think They’re Fooling? - You? Gee Vaucher. 1980. Gouache and pencil on paper. Cover art for the 7" Crass single, Bloody Revolutions.]


Yo! What Happened to Peace? is a traveling antiwar poster exhibit in which several of my artworks are included, so I’m thrilled to learn that Yo! organizer and curator, John Carr, has arranged a collaboration with Gee Vaucher and the Jack Hanley Gallery. On Jan. 17, 18 and 19, artists from the Yo! project will work in partnership with Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud (also from Crass), to present a Yo! print exhibit and live poster screen printing event at the gallery. Artists involved in the Yo! show will bring their own silkscreens to the gallery, making posters to be given away to guests at the gallery. Some of the artists scheduled to participate in the screen printing event include Winston Smith, Art Hazelwood, Doug Minkler, Eric Drooker, Mear One, Favianna Rodriguez, and a host of others.

Gee Vaucher: Introspective, at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco, Dec. 14, 2007 through January 19, 2008. The Gallery is located at: 395 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

Art Call: Stop violence against Women

The other day, while sitting in my old truck at an intersection in the rapidly gentrifying NoHo Arts District of Los Angeles, California, two twenty-something young men sailed though the pedestrian crosswalk on skateboards. One wore a brand new black T-shirt with a big bold message screen-printed on the front in bright Day-Glo orange. Its infuriatingly misogynist message audaciously shouted, “Bitch F**ks, Gets Money” - and no, the T-shirt did not make use of double asterisks.

After first wondering how the contemptible twerp managed to wear such a T-shirt on a public street without receiving a sound thrashing, I began to angrily brood over our society regressing when it comes to the issue of sexism. That we find ourselves in such a deplorable condition presents us with a profound moral, cultural, and political crisis. As luck would have it, upon reaching home and checking my e-mail, I had been sent an Artists Call for an International Women’s Day themed exhibition organized by Amnesty International USA and Avenue 50 Studio of L.A. I’m enthusiastically submitting an entry to the show, and urge all likeminded artists to follow suit. The press release issued for the project follows:

Call for Entries
¡Presente! Homenaje a la Mujer

Amnesty International USA and Avenue 50 Studio announce a call to artists for the ¡Presente! Homenaje a la Mujer art exhibition. The show will run throughout the month of March 2008, in commemoration of International Women’s Day.

The purpose of the art exhibition is to celebrate women, while at the same time creating awareness of Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign. Both men and women artists are welcomed to enter. All 2- and 3- dimensional media invited. Please limit one entry per artist. Images of entries must be emailed no later than January 1, 2008 to voluntarios@aiusa.org and should include artist’s name, title of work, medium, and dimensions.

Jury will consist of Kathy Gallegos, Director, Avenue 50 Studio, Liliana Herrera, Latino Outreach Coordinator, AIUSA, and Julissa Gómez, Field Organizer, AIUSA.

A month-long exhibition of ¡Presente! Homenaje a la Mujer will be held at the Avenue 50 Studio, 131 No. Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042 (323) 258-1435, with an opening reception on Saturday, March 8, 2008.

Timeframe:
Images of entries mailed no later than: January 1, 2008
Notification of inclusion in exhibition: January 31, 2008
Exhibition Opening Date: March 8, 2008

Call For Art: Feminist Posters

The L.A. based Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) has published a call for artists to submit poster art for its upcoming exhibition, Reclaiming the “F” Word: Posters on International Feminism. Reading from the CSPG press release:

Reclaiming the ‘F’ Word is scheduled to premiere March 2008 at the Art Galleries, California State University, Northridge. The exhibit will feature posters about the ongoing struggle for women’s rights, showing us that feminism must not be treated like a dirty word. Your posters will impact and educate a large audience of artists, community activists, university and high school faculty and students. Submission deadline: December 15, 2007. Criteria for posters: 1) Works must be produced in multiples such as silkscreen, offset, stencil, litho, digital output, etc. 2) Works must have overt political content.”

Accepted submissions will be exhibited but also made part CSPG’s extensive permanent collection/archive. CSPG maintains the largest archive of post-World War II political posters in the U.S., holding more than 60,000 domestic and international posters. For more information, contact the CSPG, at: 8124 West Third Street, Suite 211 Los Angeles, CA 90048-4039. Phone: 323-653-4662. E-mail: cspg@politicalgraphics.org. Web: www.politicalgraphics.org.

Poster by Frémez

[ Poster by Cuban artist José Gómez Fresquet (Frémez), circa 1970. Silkscreen on paper 18 3/8 x 24 1/8 inches. Collection of the CSPG. Originally created as an antiwar statement in solidarity with Vietnamese women, it’s uncertain if Frémez even gave his eye-catching poster a title. Always one of my favorite graphic images, this poster’s minimalist approach immediately made the connection between the objectification of women and the violence done against them. Needless to say the poster also brought up questions of race and class. The poster was reprinted, distributed and popularized in the U.S. by the then operating feminist art group, the Chicago Women’s Graphic Collective. ]

Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful

Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, opens March 4th, 2007 at the Geffen Contemporary of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and runs until July 16th, 2007. Organized by MOCA curator Connie Butler, the show features artworks created from 1965 to 1980, by 100 women focused on the status and liberation of women. In one attempt to capture the militant spirit of late 60’s feminist groups, Butler named her show, Wack!, which is not itself an acronym, but alludes to the popularity of acronyms used by radical groups of the period, my favorite example being the tongue in cheek, W.I.T.C.H., or - Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

Wack! is being promoted as “the first comprehensive, historical exhibition of feminist art”, and you could add “international” to the billing as around half of the artists are from outside the U.S. - including artists from England, Poland, Scandinavia, Germany, Algeria, India, Canada, Italy, Chile, and Brazil. Many talents - well known and unknown - are in the show, and an illustrated catalog published by MOCA covers all the bases, however, in this article I’d like to focus on just one participating artist - Martha Rosler.

During the early 1970’s I discovered Rosler’s photomontage series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, a brilliant, multi-faceted, intrinsically feminist critique of American involvement in Vietnam. The title of Rosler’s collection was a melding of a popular 60’s antiwar slogan in the U.S. (”Bring the War Home!”), to the vapid women’s magazine of the period that promoted homemaking as the proper area of interest for women. Rosler’s compelling and influential photomontage works seem more powerful than ever - especially since we are mired in a new Vietnam. I was delighted to learn that Rosler’s works were recently included in Media Burn, an exhibition at London’s Tate Modern, and even more excited to discover that she’s rekindled the Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful series - this latest edition being focused on Iraq.

Photomontage by Martha Rosler

[ Red Stripe Kitchen - Martha Rosler. Photomontage. 24 x 20 inches. From the series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful. 1962–72.]

Red Stripe Kitchen was a photomontage from the original 1962 - 72 series. In it, Rosler combined two photos to startling effect. The first, a circa 1970 interior shot of an affluent household’s modern home kitchen, decorated in the fashionable modernist style; gleaming white from floor to ceiling, with a breakfast bar seating arrangement surrounding the stove. Adjacent doors lead to a pantry. The dazzling white is interrupted by red highlights found in dishes, appliances - and a decorative stripe painted mid-level on the pantry wall. The second photo spliced into this tranquil scene explodes the myth of domestic bliss. Two combat ready Marines are snooping around in the pantry, engaged in the same type of search performed by U.S. soldiers a million times over in Vietnamese villages suspected of aiding Viet Cong guerillas. Aside from exposing the kitchen as a battlefield, Rosler’s photomontage directly linked women’s oppression to militarism and overseas imperial adventures - but it also posed a thousand questions. Who is the enemy? Who is innocent? Who shall be absolved of guilt and responsibility in times of war?

Photomontage by Martha Rosler

[ Gladiators - Martha Rosler. Photomontage. 2004. From the new series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful. For a larger view of this image, click here. ]

In Gladiators, one of Rosler’s current works from the Iraq series, the bourgeois home has not only turned out to be invaded, its interior has become inseparable from the mayhem outside its walls. In the living room of the spacious home depicted, a framed artwork hangs; a photo of bloodied Iraqi civilians heaped in a pile, a crystal-clear indication that we are living with the war in our daily lives without really seeing it. The quiet of the affluent residence has been shattered by a police officer, who is apparently arresting a member of the household while heavily armed U.S. soldiers conduct a search and destroy mission through the dwelling. That one of the soldiers is raising his automatic weapon towards the viewer is a disquieting reminder that the war has indeed - come home.

Viewers of Gladiators may be confused by the chaotic panorama glimpsed through the abode’s huge bay windows. In part it is obviously a distressing Iraqi street scene where smoke from a detonated car bomb wafts by palm trees, but who are the odd looking men rushing the house as they brandish clubs? The photograph depicting them is not a readily identifiable image, even though it’s an Associated Press photo that was widely circulated on the internet. The image documents U.S. Marines of the 1st Division in Iraq, dressed as gladiators and - like a scene from Charlton Heston’s, Ben Hur - holding chariot races with filched Iraqi horses. The bizarre incident occurred at a Marine military base outside of the doomed city of Fallujah on November 6th, 2004, the very eve of the Marine attack that would destroy the “insurgent stronghold” of 300,000 civilians. If you find this all too hard to believe, you can read the Agence France-Presse’s account of the Marine’s evangelical pre-Fallujah pep rally.

The Geffen Contemporary of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, is located in downtown Los Angeles near Little Tokyo, at 152 North Central Avenue. LA, CA. 90013. Visit them on the web, at: www.moca.org. MOCA has also constructed a special website for the exhibition, a “collaborative environment for consciousness-raising and discussion.” At MOCA’s WACK! site, “the general public, artists, and authors can participate in the discourse by posting responses to artworks.”

Guerrilla Girls vs. King Kong

There’s a new King Kong billboard overlooking the world famous Sunset Strip, but it wasn’t approved by director Peter Jackson. The Guerrilla Girls have been battling sexism in the art world for years, but their latest project brings them to Hollywood for a go at sexism and racism in the film industry. On the eve of the Oscars the anonymous group of neo-feminist artists have put up a legal billboard that proclaims: “The 800-pound gorilla in Hollywood isn’t King Kong - it’s discrimination against women directors!” While I agree with the critique, I feel it doesn’t go far enough when it comes to the question of race - and it certainly doesn’t address the issue of mindless escapism, which has reached near psychotic proportions in the U.S.

The original 1933 King Kong movie was produced at a time when membership in the Ku Klux Klan numbered in the millions - a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten when considering the portrayal of the savage black “natives” who kidnapped the beautiful white woman, Ann (Fay Ray.) Kong himself embodied white America’s racist view of black males as animalistic brutes obsessed with white women - which of course is why the giant ape had to be killed. Kong was the ultimate distraction for an America trying to ignore Depression-era woes and the rising tide of Fascism that was consuming Europe. Is it so bizarre then that Kong is back while America occupies Iraq and spirals ever deeper into denial? The world is in flames and Americans are transfixed by a digital ape. I find this even more disturbing than the facts found in The Guerrilla Girls’ Press Release which follows:

Guerrilla Girls’ billboard on Sunset Blvd.

[ Guerrilla Girls’ billboard on Sunset Blvd. ]

“The Guerrilla Girls and Movies by Women unveil a new billboard at Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood, California, February 1st through March 5th, 2006. We took Kong, gave him a sex change and a designer gown, and set her up in Hollywood, just a few blocks from where the Oscars will be awarded March 5, 2006. Why? To reveal the sordid but True Hollywood Story about the lack of women and people of color behind the scenes in the film industry:

Only 7% of 2005’s 200 top-grossing films were directed by women. Only 3 women have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction (Lina Wertmuller (1976), Jane Campion (1982,) and Sofia Coppola (2003). None has won.

More embarrassing Hollywood statistics: Of 2004″s top-grossing films: 5% had female directors - 12% had female writers - 3% had female cinematographers - 16% had female editors - Only 8 people of color have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction - Hollywood guilds are 80 to 90 % white - Only 3% of the Oscars for acting have been won by people of color.

In the 21st century, low, low, low numbers like this HAVE to be the result of discrimination, unconscious, conscious or both. Hollywood likes to think of itself as cool, edgy and ahead of its time, but it actually lags way behind the rest of society in employing women and people of color in top positions. There may be women heading studios these days, but what are they doing for women and people of color? Why do they keep the white male film director stereotype alive? Here’s an easy way to change things: open up that boys’ club and hire more women and people of color. It worked in medicine, business and law. It worked in the art world. Now it’s Hollywood’s turn. Rattle that cage, break those chains!

LET WOMEN DIRECT!”

[ Large pictures of the new billboard can be downloaded from www.guerrillagirls.com. For more info, visit: www.moviesbywomen.com - a grassroots collective that works toward increasing the awareness of women's contributions to film and television history. ]

Unpopular Culture: Diane Gamboa

The photographic works of longtime Los Angeles artist Diane Gamboa, are available for viewing on the official KCET website as part of their Unpopular Culture series. Gamboa’s photos focus on L.A.’s punk underground of the late 1970’s - specifically, the role young Chicanos played in the scene as band members and fans. It’s hardly ever mentioned or pointed out, but the Mexican American community of California had much to do with the founding of the state’s original punk scene - something Gamboa’s photos so beautifully illustrate. Bands like The Brat, Plugz, Bags, Stains, Nuns, Los Illegals, and the Zeros broke new ground - bringing fresh rhythms and sensibilities to a scene usually thought of as the turf of disaffected white youth. Back in the late 1970’s, after seeing the likes of the Plugz perform a twisted anarchistic cover version of La Bamba by Ritchie Valens, and witnessing the maniacal stage persona of Bags front woman Alice Bag (Alicia Armendariz) - my life was literally changed forever.

Ironically, after we must have crossed paths a million times as denizens of L.A.’s early apocalyptic punk scene, I only just met Gamboa in late 2005 when we both exhibited artworks at Both Sides of the Border - a major exhibit of Chicano and Latin American art held here in L.A. Along with Gamboa’s photos, the KCET Unpopular Culture webpage sports a solid list of links - including a link to my own Art For A Change website for its documentation of the punk portraits I created as a participant in the 1970’s L.A. punk scene. KCET also supplies links to the websites of Alice Bag, The Plugz and many others, downloadable music by The Brat and Thee Undertakers, and related useful resources.

Louise Gilbert: RIP

On May 6th, 2005, I wrote about artist Louise Gilbert, whose active career as a painter and printmaker had spanned many decades. At the time of my original article Ms. Gilbert was involved in Art and Courage, a retrospective of her work exhibited at City College of San Francisco, California. Fellow artist and friend of Ms. Gilbert, Jan Cook, wrote to inform me that Gilbert passed away on September 21st, 2005 - only a few days after her retrospective had closed. Her timing was impeccable, every true artist aspires to shuffle off this mortal coil with such grace and finesse. Fifty years ago Gilbert was a founding member of The Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco, who are now planning a memorial exhibit and ceremony for the late artist. While the dates and details for that exhibit are still pending, Ms. Cook sent me the following eulogy she wrote to honor Gilbert - “one of the last progressive artists of the generation whose political consciousness was formed by the political events of the 1930’s.”

Goodbye to Louise Gilbert, September 21, 2005.

Louise Gilbert, artist and activist, faded out of life on Wednesday, Sept 21 at 5:30 pm. She had been in the care of Onlok Senior Health in San Francisco for the last few years, where she spent many productive hours making art and talking with visitors about the same issues of peace, human rights, and art that had been her focus throughout her long life. Until the last two weeks of her life, Louise continued to make art on her computer, and even in the last week, was still planning a book of her drawings. Louise died without pain, retaining her dignity and privacy, as she wanted. Louise Gilbert and her sister Jane originally came to San Francisco from Portland as young women just before World War II. They had become radicalized during the labor struggles of the 1930’s and wished to spare their family the repercussions of their involvement with the Communist Party. Louise immediately became involved in the California Labor School and her sister began writing for the People’s World newspaper. Louise met the artist Refregier at the Labor School, and when he received a commission at the Rincon Annex Post Office, she assisted him on the mural.

The Fisherman - Print by Louise Gilbert
“The Fisherman” Woodblock print by Louise Gilbert

During WWII Louise took the unpopular stand of supporting pacifism, and after the war was fired from her drafting job for her union organizing activities and for refusal to sign the loyalty oath. Peace and human rights became the causes that inspired the rest of her life. She used her talents to create art for the causes she supported, including the anti-nuclear movement, anti-Vietnam War struggles, progressive labor, gay and lesbian rights, farm workers, and many more causes. As a worker and as an artist, she lived in the collective spirit that was the ideal of the Labor School and of the Graphic Studio Workshop, where she was a founding member. Although her income was always modest, her mailbox was always full of requests from organizations that knew she would donate her art and money to worthy causes.

In 1998 at the age of 85 she was still marching miles demonstrating with her original signs, protesting U.S. policies in the Middle East. Louse’s life was always full of projects; her life was a model of flexibility in aging. In her final year 2005, her art was exhibited in a retrospective at San Francisco City College. Louise was able to enjoy the opening and expressed her gratitude to all who attended. Louise Gilbert made the decisions that mattered; she lived a principled life and died under circumstances of her choice, with a sense of humor even in her last days. She asked for little from others in her long life, but she gave much to all who knew her. Louise Gilbert April 12, 1913 - Sept 21, 2005.”

The Biennale: “Dearth in Venice”

The 51st Venice Biennale opened on June 12th, 2005, and artists, patrons, curators, collectors and the general public will view the latest in contemporary art until the festival closes in November. It’s been said that this biennale has abandoned the display of gimmicky artworks designed to shock in favor of more subdued statements, and that this year’s festival is a triumph for women - but I see little evidence of these allegations. It has been asserted that this biennale is less political than previous ones, even as Bush’s State Department appointed Ed Ruscha as America’s “official representative”. While it’s true that not a single artist bothered to make even a token statement on the inferno that is the Iraq war… real world politics were made manifest in other ways.

Having visited Venice I can attest to the beauty of this metropolis built upon the sea. The richness of the city’s Byzantine and Renaissance architectural styles is overwhelming, and its hundreds of palaces, churches and public buildings present the works of the matchless Venetian school of painters. The artists of Venice helped to establish oil paint as a medium in artistic production, and as I strolled through the city’s ancient galleries gazing upon master works by Giovanni Bellini, Jacapo Tintoretto and Titian I was left with the impression that the city well represents the highest achievements of Western art. Which is part of my displeasure at seeing the former bastion of the renaissance transformed into a roosting place for flocks of wealthy art patrons, dealers, and other buzzards looking for the latest postmodern “masterpiece” to add to their collections.

My feelings regarding the biennale are shared by Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones, who eloquently tells the tale of woe in his piece entitled, Dearth in Venice. The Venice Biennale has more resemblance to a gated community for art snobs than a true public celebration of art.

The kingpin of that gated community would have to be Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. Allen moored his yacht off of Venice’s famous Grand Canal along with the numerous yachts belonging to his fellow fat cats. But at 413-feet-long and equipped with a screening room, swimming pool, an art gallery housing his private collection, and a helicopter, Allen’s colossal yacht dwarfed not only the tiny picturesque gondolas - but the yachts of the other captains of industry as well. Allen’s private cruiser is aptly named The Octopus, and its tentacles reach around the world. While Mr. Allen whooped it up with his billionaire buddies at the biennale, Microsoft launched a new China-based Internet portal in Beiijing.

A collaborative project with the authoritarian regime, MSN’s system bars people from using the following words in its search engine… “democracy”, “freedom”, “human rights”, “demonstration” and “Taiwan Independence.” The money made from this contemptible deal will no doubt help Mr. Allen snatch up some hot new art at the biennale - or at least make it possible for him to obtain another yacht. The ostentatious flaunting of wealth seems to be the spirit of the Venice Biennale, and one of the first things visitors see when entering the grounds are banners from American artist Barbara Kruger, which read “Money”, “Power”, and “You make history when you do business.”

The sad thing about Kruger’s postmodernist diktats in the context of this particular setting, is that they have absolutely no sense of irony, sarcasm or even humor. They have no power in the land of the money bags. They are more confirmation than critique.

A chandelier made of tampons

As I’ve already noted, the 51st Venice Biennale is being touted as a breakthrough for women, and those who make this assertion point to the Spanish curators Maria de Corral and Rosa Martinez, who are the first women to have ever organized the event in its 110-year history. That they filled the curatorial positions of this most vaunted festival is notable - but a breakthrough?

They recommended that the aforementioned Barbara Kruger receive a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement award for her contentious photomontage works, but what else is there to show for their appointment? We are offered an installation by American artist Jennifer Allora that features a life-sized realistic hippopotamus made of mud, upon which a real woman sits and reads while occasionally whistling. There’s the conceptual art of Portugese artist, Joana Vasconcelos, who created a chandelier made of tampons entitled The Bride.

Guerilla Girls concept of high art

And last but not least, the Guerilla Girls exhibited their so-called pop art posters, one of which is pure text and reads “Less than three percent of artists in the modern art sections are women, but 83 percent of the nudes are female.” Now that’s fine as an agitational slogan designed to advance the cause of feminism (which I’m all for), but it’s lousy art. The Birth of Feminism poster from the Guerilla Girls looks like any other advertisement for the latest inane Hollywood jiggle fest, except we are to believe that this particular poster carries with it a subversive feminist subtext.

The Guerilla Girls are most likely elated over having succeeded at turning a monotonous advertising agency style poster into “high art”… but how a Photoshop manipulated image of scantily clad bikini bimbos advances feminism or qualifies as fine art escapes me. I’ll take Mary Cassatt or Frida Kahlo over the Guerilla Girls any time. Aside from these few examples, the curators exercised caution in pushing a feminine perspective - so much for the great advances of women artists.

Suffice it to say, the Venice Biennale places great attention on conceptual and installation works, with traditional painting given only marginal consideration. Commenting on the event, Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, was quoted in the New York Times as saying “The art world is in a transitional moment, with so many new people coming in to it, it all hasn’t settled yet.” Which I suppose is the polite way of saying the art world is out of control, makes no sense, and is in a complete state of disarray and chaos.

I’ve always maintained that great art springs from chaotic times… but you’ll have to look beyond the pavilions of the Venice Biennale to find it.