|Publisher:||University of California Press|
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About the Author
Diana Burgess Fuller is an editor, curator, and arts administrator. Daniela Salvioni is an art critic and curator.
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ART/WOMEN/CALIFORNIAPARALLELS AND INTERSECTIONS 1950-2000
University of CaliforniaCopyright © 2002 Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salvioni
All right reserved.
IntroductionArt in Context
Art/Women/California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections is a comprehensive survey of women artists working in California in the second half of the twentieth century who have contributed in dynamic and innovative ways to broadening the definition of art. We seek to reveal the richness of this period by contrasting and comparing these artists and their varied artistic practices in relation to the larger sociopolitical context. We present five parallel perspectives on this history, which reflect the distinct experiences of California's major ethnic and cultural communities, and investigate the points of intersection in shared themes and practices. We examine how women artists have been affected by the vast sociopolitical changes of the post-World War II era, which in California had a very distinct character, and how the ensuing events influenced the art they produced. Moreover, we trace the impact that these artists and their work have had on shaping both the California profile and the larger culture into what they are today.
We explore the conjuncture between place and artistic activity from multiple perspectives: thematic and formal, as well as social and historical. The California context has heuristic value both because of the set of factors that make the state unique and, conversely, because of the ways in which California functions as a microcosm of national and global sociopolitical developments.
In California, place is indexed to space. Poised at the edge of the continent, before the earth's largest body of water, the land that is California offers a very palpable sense of exterior space. Physical space, the land's very physicality, presses itself on its inhabitants because there is simply more room out west, because the land has been subjected to obvious geophysical and manmade stress, because of the economic value of land due to California's robust agricultural and industrial sectors, and because it is the ground upon which so many of its immigrants toil. Space may also be seen as the locus of the body; that is, the corporeal as the place from which to move out into the world, which the feminist movement defined and which had a particularly significant impact on feminist art in California. Space may also be considered as interior, an inner sanctum, a site of personal freedom and introspection. In part this conception derives from the forms that spirituality takes in the non-European cultures that have been absorbed into California culture, and in part from the drive toward active spiritual self-definition forged in those idiosyncratic and unorthodox ways with which California is associated. And finally there is the newest definition of space, interactive and creative, but devoid of geographical space and unhinged from the limitations of the physical body, which comes to us via the Internet frontier, largely developed in California. In this volume, Jennifer Gonzalez, Amelia Jones, Pamela Lee, and Allucquere Rosanne Stone show how the theme of space-physical, corporeal, spiritual, and virtual-reverberates throughout the art produced in California in the later half of the twentieth century.
The California art world-the real life structures within which its artists operate-has its own specificity. During the second half of the twentieth century, California became a mecca for art students because of its wealth of excellent art schools and its tuition assistance programs (by the 1990s greatly slashed). The schools encouraged the exploration of new artistic practices, rendering California an experimental hotbed populated by scores of young, ambitious artists. California's trove of nonprofit exhibition spaces, which arose in the 1970s, gave artists opportunities to show their work without commercial pressures. Its hitherto relatively undeveloped art market (this too began to change in the 1980s) rendered it an art environment that was underdetermined by exclusionary commodifying forces, compared to other art centers. These factors freed up artists to be as experimental as they wished, regardless of how commodifiable the results would be.
But, for all its specificity, California is also a place that epitomizes national and global trends, and indeed, often presages them. Deep demographic changes, the shift toward ever greater diversity and complexity with all its concomitant sociopolitical implications, are accelerated and exacerbated in California but similarly are under way elsewhere in the United States as well as abroad. While California is at the vanguard of the information technology revolution, the technology is quickly adopted everywhere, radically altering the ways in which we all work and play. The state's extreme politics, and its late twentieth-century governors ranging from Jerry Brown to Ronald Reagan, were at first viewed as Californian oddities but no longer, particularly after Reagan captured the nation as president. Hollywood has made California into the engine of mainstream popular culture, while freedom of expression and the willingness to experiment in lifestyles and ideas have fostered a global "alternative" culture with a distinct Californian bent. California's role as sociopolitical crystal ball of the nation and its near-mythic role in the global cultural imagination are reflected in much of the work made there and in the influence art made-in-California has on art generally.
The artists presented in this book form a heterogeneous group-diverse in age, ethnic background, cultural milieu, and formal artistic training. They are painters, sculptors, photographers, performance artists, installation artists, filmmakers, video artists, artists using new technologies, and graphic artists. Their works employ different artistic styles, content, modes of address, target audiences, and sites of interventions. When focusing on artists who may have little or nothing in common aesthetically or culturally except for the fact that they are all women, there is the risk of over-determining the importance of gender. But, we eschew a single privileged optic and the search for a oneness of artistic vision whose homogenizing effects distort the complexity of reality. Rather, we examine the work in the larger context, taking into account how California history, politics, and economics have affected the artists' cultural formation and their artistic production. For instance, Amalia Mesa-Bains and Terezita Romo discuss how some Chicana/Latina artists critically address the structure of Chicano/Latino gender relations in their imagery and in the way they work. Similarly, while so much art of the 1980s addressed issues of cultural and sexual identity, which early feminist art had thematized in the 1960s and 1970s, we recognize its roots in historical developments running parallel to and/or preceding feminism (such as the Civil Rights movement, and anticolonial movements abroad) as well as in profound economic shifts.
From whence did the developments that fostered this artistic fermentation arise? World War II was a historic watershed for the United States because it marked the beginning of a profound economic and social upheaval that unleashed far-reaching demographic and cultural changes. The war effort spurred economic growth and social independence for both working-class and middle-class European American women and to a lesser extent for men and women of color as well, who suddenly found themselves filling jobs previously reserved solely for white males. California was an important center of the military industrial complex, which drew workers from across the rest of the nation. At the same time, California's agricultural and industrial economies were burgeoning, which renewed immigration trends from Asia and both Central and South America. The sociopolitical and economic landscape that emerged in California after World War II stimulated a radical social activism, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, which triggered an enormous response by scores of women of all cultural backgrounds, prompting them to make art that reflected their personal experiences and/or often was politically charged.
What was the artistic climate women artists faced in the period covered by this book? By the 1950s, the institutionally sanctioned art world was no longer exclusively the province of well-to-do white men and recent emigres from Europe but was, instead, becoming more diversified in terms of class. The postwar GI Bill of Rights afforded unprecedented numbers of middle-class and working-class veterans the luxury of training to become professional artists. By the 1950s American artists had established new ways of making and perceiving art that was no longer derivative of European art-the unbound expressivity of abstract expressionism and subsequently the ironic complicity of Pop art were the cornerstones of a newfound autonomy. But, because they conceived of expressivity abstractly, these artists did not thematize personal subject matter or content as such. Moreover, until the feminist art movement, the sociological profile of the artists, while broadened, was still staunchly European-American and male. The rare exceptions in the earlier part of the postwar period were artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, and Lee Bontecou, who explored ways for making art unfettered by the male-dominated aesthetics of the time. But their work was marginalized and relegated to the status of curious asides in the official histories. Artists who did fit the dominant mold, like Helen Frankenthaler, were often dismissed as feminized versions of the "real" thing. Eva Hesse stands out for having incorporated a "feminized" aesthetic into post-minimalism and having been highly acclaimed by the mainstream art world. But she is the exception that proves the rule, for very few other women artists at the time achieved such recognition.
The social changes that swept the nation in the postwar era introduced "new" protagonists-women, peoples of color, gays and lesbians-onto the social stage. Against the background of the postwar economic boom and coupled with California's cultural openness toward the new, California became an environment where people from diverse backgrounds were emboldened to create their own artistic vocabularies. The advent of the feminist explosion, which itself was born of the Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, was especially felt in California, particularly Los Angeles, which became a principal epicenter for a variety of feminist art practices, particularly performance.
Feminism forcefully made content, instead of abstraction, art's essential and critical component. Although the feminist movement was limited in its support of women of color, its ripple effect was to render personal experience acceptable subject matter for art. Moreover, it made women artists-whether overtly feminist or not-more visible en masse, bringing them greater public and institutional attention.
The struggle for civil rights and empowerment of people of color, which peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, also inspired women of color to exercise their role as artists and to develop art practices that reflected and addressed their own specific concerns and interests centered on the issue of identity. But it was not until the latter part of the 1980s that the effects of these struggles were finally absorbed by the mainstream art world, and the excellence of the artistic reality promulgated interest and response. The issues and themes elaborated by artists of color began to be acknowledged; their opportunities for exhibiting increased; and they received greater critical attention, though here, too, biases were not entirely expunged. Nevertheless, today the art world has been compelled to realize that seemingly neutral categories and distinctions ordinarily taken for granted in the hegemonic discourse on art were actually often exclusionary and restrictive.
The unique confluence of distinct energies and traditions of this period resulted in multiple challenges to the formal European modernist aesthetic that had dominated artistic creation, theory, and discourse. In their challenge to the established discourse, women artists employed strategies that had hitherto been downplayed, if not outright exorcised, from modernist art. With rising concerns over a host of issues-from environmental hazards to threats to community cohesiveness within the urban context-the notion that artists might have the ability to initiate social change suddenly became relevant again (after lying dormant since the 1920s). This radical new awareness must have been especially compelling to women artists, who had so much to gain from changes to the white male-dominated bastion of art.
Women artists started to break away from established formalist theory and to develop new styles, strategies, and goals which put personal experience at the center of the work, invoked narrative, incorporated folk and craft elements, critically appropriated media images, impelled attention from the media, performed concrete bodily enactments, and made activism a viable art strategy. The art practices spawned by women artists anticipated and laid the foundation for contemporary art through the close of the century and beyond.
Issues of personal and/or collective identity have dominated much of the work produced in the period covered by this book. They are a constant theme, from the visceral performance-based work centered in Los Angeles's Woman's Building and the fictional personae developed in enduring performances sometimes lasting a year by artists such as Lynn Hershman Leeson and Linda Montano in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, to the plethora of 1980s and 1990s artists wrestling with the subject, including artists as different as Tran T. Kim-Trang, Kara Walker, Laura Aguilar, Jean LaMarr, and Diana Thater.
What is less obvious is the pervasiveness of identity issues lying beneath the surface. For instance, art involving new technologies raises identity issues on an interstitial level of the work. Free of prescribed frames of reference dictating the making and viewing of the art, art that employs new technologies is open to preoccupations that are excluded from the art historical cannon. It raises questions about the nature and the role of the collective and/or individual viewer and issues of what is deemed public and private. By contrast, traditional media tend to beg already prescribed responses by the artists and the traditional art viewer alike. Of course, this is not always true. Painters like Kim Dingle are finding subtle and provocative ways to use the traditional medium of painting that unsettle the traditionally conceived relation between art and viewer. And we can imagine a time, perhaps in the immediate future, when the "old new technology," like video, will become ossified and formulaic.
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Table of Contents
PrefaceDiana FullerForwardSusan LandauerAcknowledgementsIntroduction: Art in ContextDaniel SalvioniCULTURAL OVERVIEW"I Dream I'm the Death of Orpheus"Adrienne RichReflecting on Histories as HistoriesWhitney Chadwick"Kopid'taya (A Gathering of Spirits)"Paula Gunn AllenOther LandscapesAngela Y. DavisPARALLELSReconsidering the Terrain: Five Historical Perspectives"Coal"Audre LordeLiberating Blackness and Interrogating WhitenessPhyllis J. Jackson"Yes, We are Not Invisible"Janice MirikitaniWhat Is an Asian American Woman Artist?Karin HigaExcerpt from "The Poet in the World"Denise LevertovConstructing a New Paradigm: European American Women Artists in California, 1950-2000Laura Meyer"To We Who Were Saved by the Stars"Lorna Dee CervantesCalifia/Califas: A Brief History of Chicana CaliforniaAmalia Mesa-Bains"Revolutionary Letter #21"Diane di PrimaUncovering/Recovering: Indigenous Artists in CaliforniaJolene RickardINTERSECTIONS / Ley LinesBurning Down the House: Feminist Art in California(An Interview with Amelia Jones )Daniela Salvioni and Diana Burgess FullerA Collective History: Las Mujeres MuralistasTerezita RomoIndigenous Visionaries: Native Women Artists in CaliforniaTheresa HarlanHow The Invisible Woman Got Herself on the Cultural Map: Black Women Artists in CaliforniaJudith WilsonINTERSECTIONS /Themes and PracticesLanding in CaliforniaJennifer GonzalezWomen Artists in California and Their Engagement with PhotographySandra S. PhillipsCalifornia Filming: Re-Imagining the NationRosa Linda FregosoConstruction Sites: Women Artists in California and the Production Space-TimePamela LeeExchangesMoira Roth and Suzanne LacyWomen, Art, and Technology: A Brief HistoryJoAnn HanleyWhat Do We Want? The Subject Behind the Camera: Women Video Artists and Self-ArticulationNancy BuchananEpilogueThe Baby or the Bath Water; Being an Inquiry into the Nature of Woman,Womyn, Art, Time, and Timing in Five Thousand Words or LessAllucque Rosanne StoneList of ContributorsList of IllustrationsIndex