Museum of Sonoma County exhibit explores power of diverse feminist art
From the push by women in the 19th century for voting rights, through the push back against traditional roles in the 1960s and up to today’s effort for a more diverse and inclusive society, the aims of feminism have evolved continuously.
Equal representation in every field is still an aim too, one that’s reflected in the newest Museum of Sonoma County exhibit, opening Saturday in downtown Santa Rosa. Yet the exhibit’s curator sees a pressing need for greater growth.
“People ask why I focus on feminist art and my reply is that until the playing fields are more equal, I'm going to continue to focus my practice on promoting women in the arts,” said Karen Gutfreund of Windsor, a feminist activist and independent curator who organized this new exhibit. She has curated or directed about 40 similar exhibitions around the country.
While nearly half of visual artists in the United States are women, just 14% of exhibitions at 26 prominent U.S. museums over the past decade were of work by female artists, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts website.
The word “agency” in the exhibit’s title — “Agency: Feminist Art and Power” — alludes to the capacity for women to act or exert one’s own power; to act independently and to make free choices, Gutfreund explained.
This show, a collaboration between the museum and the Feminist Art Project, broadens the concept of feminist art and uses the term “womxn” to include artists who represent a variety of cultural backgrounds, generations, geographic locations and LGBTQ and gender identities.
“It’s a great cross-section of artists from all over the country, from Native American to Black and Chicana. And now feminism has expanded to include trans and nonbinary,” Gutfreund said.
“This particular exhibit was by developed by Connie Tell, chair of the National Committee of the Feminist Art Project and me, with the enthusiastic support of Jeff Nathanson, the executive director at the museum. Of the 28 artists represented in the exhibit, six are from the Bay Area and two are from Los Angeles,” she added.
The show also includes work by pioneering feminist artist Judy Chicago and several artists who studied with her.
Viewers will likely find the images in the show provocative and arresting at first glance. “iBot,” a photo from performance artist Jessie Edelstein, presents a woman’s face covered with eyes. “Venus De Mardi Gras” by visual artist Shonagh Adelman, depicts a woman wearing a dress suggestive of earlier century and an animal-like mask.
“The exhibit is telling stories about the artists’ life experiences,” Gutfreund said. “The images are so powerful that once you see something, it really sticks with you.”
While the latest county COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings forced postponement of several public events related to the show, the museum itself will remain open, with capacity limited to no more than 50 people indoors at a time, museum representatives said.
“The show already had been pushed back twice, due to COVID,” Gutfreund said.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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