Kristen Powell would like you to think of this post as the first part of A Very Brief and in No Way Comprehensive Introduction to Art by Contemporary Female Artists (In Which Such Artists are Introduced For Later In-Depth Delving).
In the years that I’ve lived in D.C., I’ve acquired the somewhat strange habit of visiting specific paintings. There are a couple that I just go by to say “hi” to every few weeks just because they’re here in the city and so am I — and frankly all of the museums I go to are free. I have this tendency to rely on art as a reliable emotional foundation in my life; that is, I revisit the same artists or works over and over again for the same reasons.
Saying that this list in any way covers even a remotely comprehensive cross-section of feminist artists (or saying these artists are Feminist Artists in a cohesive sense or even a categorizing sense) would be ridiculous. What I am saying is: these are the three feminist artists (and specific pieces of theirs) that I completely and totally rely on to drag me through life and keep my spirits up.
The single painting I visit most often is Alice Neel’s self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. This is not Picasso painting himself at 18. This is an 80-year-old woman heavy and still vibrant and tired from painting the painting. Naked.
I mentioned Holzer’s Truisms in the last piece I wrote here. It totally sounds made up, but I really do read them to myself when I’m angry or lonely or sad or any negative emotion really. Most of Holzer’s pieces use words as part of installation pieces to get her point across. There’s power in the simplicity of her work. Until 2001, Holzer wrote her own words, but now she borrows from others.
The Truisms are the piece I always come back to. They can be harsh at times. But not as harsh as her Survival.
Interestingly, Holzer mostly rejects being labeled a feminist. But more on that another day.
A lot of times when people think of feminist art, they think of Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party,” a table set for history’s favorite women, each plate designed to be the respective woman’s vagina.
I asked for the catalogue for my 18th birthday.
The piece, while almost a cliché at this point, is still one of the most powerful pieces of feminist art I’ve experienced. Chicago designed pieces for prehistoric goddesses, saints, sinners and mostly other feminists. It is personal but also without a doubt is trying to educate you and everyone else. And that’s what makes it kind of special.