US Museums to Champion Feminist Art Ahead of 2020 Election
November 14 2019
By Manuel Charr
The US Presidential race may not yet be officially underway but few political commentators doubt that the incumbent isn’t already in a semi-campaigning mode as his political rivals work out who will receive the official nomination to stand against him. As the embattled President – who continues to face criticism in many parts of the world as well as at home with the progress of impeachment proceedings against him – carries on towards the 2020 election, a feminist art group has decided the time is right to highlight the current state of women’s issues in the United States. What’s more significant to the museum sector is that the Feminist Art Coalition (FAC), has already teamed up with more than fifty galleries and museums across the country to put on feminist art exhibitions, many of them with something to say about the current President.
The idea of putting on feminist performances and other art shows devoted to women’s perspectives in the months leading up to the election of a new president began during the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald J Trump in 2016, a campaign that included some significant outbursts from the Republican on the subject of women – much of which he put down to “locker room talk.” At this time, Apsara DiQuinzio decided that something needed to be done from a feminist point of view. DiQunzio, a poet who is also a senior curator of modern and contemporary art, allowed her idea to germinate and now, just three years on, she is spearheading an initiative that she hopes will generate greater cultural awareness of feminism. The curator, who works at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), said that she hoped the coalition of feminist artists would be able to demonstrate the “thought, experience and action” of feminism to a much wider audience.
A Grassroots Approach
According to FAC, the idea is to lead a grassroots campaign which will not only coordinate feminist art shows and other events in the US but place them in the directly political context of the election itself. The fifty or so institutions in America that will take part are not merely signed up at a time when a presidential campaign is taking place but because it is. The grassroots campaign, which hopes to build on the activities and activism of feminists all over the US was officially launched in the first week of November. The FAC’s website stated that the movement is expected to grow over the course of 2020 as the campaigns of the two big parties in the US begins to heat up. Although there are fifty participating institutions already signed up to the idea, FAC hopes that its grassroots approach will soon mean that more and more opt to take part.
FAC has already committed to a programme of commissioning works and shows as well as staging its own exhibitions of feminist works and those which are entirely dedicated to female perspectives. In addition, it hopes to add performance art installations and to stage discussion groups as well as feminist symposia in the run-up to election day, 2020. This is a strategic endeavour to promote greater social change according to the coalition. In fact, DiQuinzio told the press that her team thought it would generate the sort of ‘cultural groundwork’ that could lead to important public debates about gender and politics. That these could take place within some of America’s art institutions was key to DiQuinzio’s strategy. She said that it allowed FAC to act in a “thoughtful and strategic way in the immediate run-up to the election.”
The Art Institutions Involved
In a country where overtly partisan political acts are often discouraged among museum professionals, it may come as a surprise that so many institutions have been keen to collaborate with FAC. However, participating institutions are located all over the country and comprise both big and well-known museums as well as smaller, non-profit ones that often rely on philanthropy to survive. Among those who have already signed up to the FAC campaign is the Brooklyn Museum in New York City as well as the Lawndale Art Center in Houston. In Chicago, the Renaissance Society have also got involved as has the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This particular institution will stage a retrospective exhibition entirely devoted to Judy Chicago, the renowned feminist artist. Elsewhere, the Spruance Gallery in Pennsylvania has decided to put on a show that is centred on the print making activities of female artists in the middle of the twentieth century. In the south, Miami’s Pérez Art Museum will host a group show called ‘My Body, My Rules’ which many think directly challenges some of the comments made by the president during his successful 2016 race.
An Inclusive Campaign
Despite the obvious accent on female made and curated art, FAC has publicly stated that the idea is not meant to be dedicated to only female projects. DiQuinzio said that although the project understandably centres on feminism, diverse and creative ideas are welcome so long as they fall under the wider remit of the coalition. Perhaps that is why the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington has volunteered its entire space to an as yet unknown FAC-inspired artistic project. Anne Ellegood, a director at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, echoed the sentiment. “This campaign is specifically intended to encourage feminist discourse,” she said. “It should [therefore]… increase awareness of how feminist goals seek to benefit the whole of society.”
The director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, Susan Fisher Sterling, said that the excuses people give around gender imbalances in art have to change. “They really tell us a great deal about the power of art as well as the difficulty some people have coping with change,” she said. Sterling went on to point out that the art world is sometimes “lulled into a sense of parity” but this is not the reality and that such myths need to be pointed out in order to alter the status quo.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.