Feminisms and Curating…III

Feminisms and Curating: Strategies, Interventions, Histories, Part III

Session chair:

Jessica Sjöholm Skrubbe
Ph.D., Researcher, Senior Lecturer
Department of Art History
Stockholm University
[email protected]


Transformative Encounters – Prior and current strategies of a feminist pioneer

Margareta Gynning, PhD, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden, [email protected]

Museum Collections are vital to focus on in a ‘liquid world’ (Z. Bauman) like ours. In a climate where museums are contributing to the seductive nature of a culture that focuses on the surface of things, especially through blockbuster exhibitions, and rarely challenges the present aesthetics of Art consumption, feminist scholars have started to argue that Art Historical Collections can show how meaning is construed visually in our global culture. In foregrounding the pedagogical and relational aspects, the importance of dialogue and the use of body language are stressed in order to enable ‘transformative encounters’ (G. Pollock) in the museum, between the curator / the art object / and what was ‘formerly known as the public’. Large institutions are not by definition negative zones for feminist interventions, even though many Public Art Museum curators still are extremely conservative. This paper departs from Curator Margareta Gynning’s own experience of working with the Nationalmuseum’ Collections in Stockholm in order to reach beyond institutional boundaries and use different spaces for artistic interventions by collaborating with actors, relational artists, illustrators and photographers.

The main purpose of Margareta Gynning’s paper is to discuss how a curator, by using diverse feminist strategies can make exhibitions that break with the ‘The Canon’ and the hegemony of Modernist Art History by analyzing the importance of prior curating experience and comparing the feminist interventions of the 1980’s and those of today. Though many feminists have held different positions on that ‘Map’ that today is known as feminisms, this paper will show how they are interrelated, and discuss which methodologies and ideological structures that have been most strategically productive. Highlighting that in that seemingly never ending struggle, Swedish feminist curators actually have and have had a privileged position, compared to their international counterparts. And that they have succeeded in establishing a large following of visitors that continually go to see exhibitions with gender perspectives.


Feminist Shows Versus Working for an Equality Marked Collection

Malin Hedlin Hayden, PhD, Stockholm University, Sweden, [email protected]

In 2001 Phaidon Press published Art and Feminism within their series “Themes and Movements”; Amelia Jones’ anthology The feminism and visual culture reader of 2003 was re-printed in a second extended edition last year; Whitney Chadwick’s Women, Art and Society – first published in 1990 – has been reprinted as revised editions in 1996, 2002 and 2007 and is forthcoming in yet a revised version this year. To mention but a few investment from publishing houses regarding art, feminisms and art by women artists. During the last years a number of exhibitions explicitly thematizing feminist art have been made (for example Global Feminisms, WACK!, Konstfeminismer). Accompanying catalogues with theoretically informed essays – often with historical recollections of women artists – have been published. In this context it appears as an evident fact that feminist practices within exhibition producing institutions (in the West) have advanced seriously in recent years. The number of shows, the expensive catalogues, the number of reviews (perhaps not so much), the number of participating artists and not least the large scale of these “display situations” could be taken as proof of a radically thorough (new) investment in feminisms regarding curatorial practices, but also as a means to re-engage occasionally neglected parts of collections. However, I will question that a profound change has taken place and instead argue for the radical difference between creating and promoting feminist art shows and working in-depth with collections from a gender perspective aiming at equality regarding visual representations of modern and contemporary art. Feminist art is, continuously, a well-established category in art historical surveys (especially in relation to postmodern art and beyond) that singles out women as art producers of a special kind and making art with specific ideological grounds. This is not to be equalled with institutions trying to come to terms with sex-biased stories covering their walls. The former can obviously turn into a blockbuster event, the latter is still a rather unknown phenomenon – yet thinkable.

I will employ the show elles@centrepompidou as a case in point. The show opened in spring 2009, was planned to be on view for a year but the crowds made the institution extend it for yet one more year. Clearing the presence of art made by men on two entire floors of the home site for the collection, only works by women artists were on display in this exhibition. Important to note is that this show was not launched as a feminist project, while at the same time emphasizing the collection from the other side of the normally sex-biased display situation. Then and there, it seemed like the institution was making an effort to think and visualize the collection differently; such a blockbuster event would of course substantially affect the display situation after the relatively short presence of women artists only. I thought it would be unavoidable taking it into serious account for the future re-hangings. But I was wrong. At present the two floors are divided chronological into a modernist-high modernist period/floor and a postmodern/contemporary one. Names of all artists on view are listed on the website, marked in relation to the gallery where they are to be seen. The result is: business as usual.

Thus, instead of taking serious and long-term actions towards an equality-labelled (c.p. eco-labels) display situation of the collection, a majority of the women artists represented at elles@centrepompidou are back in the cellars. The anti-equality situation of ‘collections in the visual’ turns out to be even more difficult to displace after the elles@centrepompidou – not only since we now know what is actually in the collection ‘down-there’, but, more importantly, since visuality is even more firmly established as temporary regarding women artists while in a state of forever (with a few pauses) regarding the works of male artists. With this paper I want to raise questions regarding feminist art as a theme, works by women artists as visual (temporary) occasions and the evident gap, as it seems, to practising a collection from an equality perspective. Except from the books and catalogues mentioned above, the paper departs mostly from my own research and articles co-written with Jessica Sjöholm Skrubbe.


Practices on Paper: the Australian magazine LIP (1976-1984) and the Periodical as a Feminist Curatorial Space

Vivian Ziherl, BA, Independent Critic and Curator, Netherlands/Australia

As noted in Katy Deepwell’s essay Feminist Curatorial Strategies and Practices (2006), a radical trajectory of feminist curatorial activity in the 1970s moved beyond the institutional space of art, critiquing museums and galleries as an insufficient container for transformative feminist positions. In Australia, the feminist periodical LIP (1976–1984) developed a social, critical and inter-subjective space that was crucial to the development of specifically regional Anglophone feminisms in the arts. Several key works of 1970s Australian feminism were presented in LIP as paper versions, and the magazine’s circulation mapped an important social-discursive space in which the possibilities and implications of feminist art and organising were explored. Through a close case-study, the paper addresses the historicisation and theorisation of LIP as a feminist curatorial space, taking the magazine as a rich site in which to examine the display and organisation of feminist work and ideas in close relationship to regional political-cultural specificities. In a broader lens, the paper explores the implications of this feminist work in troubling curatorial givens; prizing-opening the conversation on curatorship, of who a curator is, of what curatorial labor is, and the complex confluence of interests that converge to generate a moment of display.

In this paper the frame of ‘exhibition histories’ is discussed as germane to feminist agendas as it expands a ‘history of reception’, displacing the decisive moment of art history from the solitude of the studio to the social moment of display.  In this way, art is placed in circulation as shared property with a necessarily mutable generation and assignation of meaning. The feminist artwork, exhibition, publication, performance festival etc. is here configured not as a unitary entity, but as the condensation of a shared cultural texture into a moment of heightened visibility. Through a study of LIP, the social space of art becomes available to be traced; ‘social’ in terms of the socialisation of spaces (ie. feminine magazine vs masculine journal) and ‘social’ as regarding the complex inter-personal dynamics among the various protagonists of a curatorial project. These theorisations of the publication as a social-curatorial space of art draw from a sequence of points in feminist writing on exhibitions by Reesa Greenberg (The Exhibited Redistributed: A Case for Reassessing Space, 1994), Griselda Pollock (Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive, 2007) and Jenny Sorkin (The Feminist Nomad: The All-Women Group Show, 2007).

The research that underpins this paper has been undertaken organically as part of my work towards a regionally specific genealogy as a younger-generation feminist curator from ‘the antipodes’. There is very little scholarship on 1970s/80s feminism in Australia, and less yet on feminist curatorial strategies in this time. As such, my research has been undertaken through access to the LIP archive and the personal archives of protagonists, through discussion with members of the editorial collective, discussion with Australian feminist art-historians, discussion with Australian feminist artists from the 1970s/80s and, discussion with contemporary Australian artists negotiating the legacies of feminisms in their practice. Through LIP, the specificities of Australian feminisms emerge across issues such as; a relation to labor, class and immigrant politics; interdisciplinary relations among visual art, theory, film, mass-media, and theatre; a relation to an environmental politics of land-use and a relation to indigenous politics. These issues can be seen to be inflected through the feminist artwork produced in Australia, and the discourses that surrounded its production and display.