Works from a feminist perspective by women artist of the MACBA Collection
This itinerary goes through a series of works by women artists in the Museum Collection that reveal the tensions that have existed throughout the history of contemporary art in relation to different cultural, social and political contexts and which have a strong feminist character.
In the eighties, the Guerrilla Girls decided to incorporate new strategies to the feminism of the seventies, such as humour and stridence, wit and laughter. Although still influenced by the pioneering work of artists such as Judy Chicago and art critic Lucy Lippard denouncing the invisibility of women in the art world, the fresh language used by the Guerrilla Girls to address the public at large can be seen as a turning point. The posters in the MACBA Collection are representative of this new language. They incorporate icons and elements from popular culture, such as Andy Warhol’s bananas and the figure of King Kong, as well as portraits of women artists and Hollywood actresses.
Although structured as independent pieces, Eulàlia catalogues these works under a unique denomination: Ethnographies (1972–74). While ethnography is a descriptive study of human practices, under Eulàlia's gaze it becomes a devastating analysis of the Western world and the values of the capitalist system. By using photographs taken from the contemporaneous media, she constructs collages where the images form critical associations that comment harshly on consumerism, violence, abuse of power and bourgeois values. The resulting work is a decalogue of the 'sins' and tricks of the capitalist way of life.
In the context of the feminist and Pop art movements of the late 1960s and early seventies, Dorothée Selz produced the series Mimétisme relatif in 1973. Both humorous and critical, the series addresses the image of the seductive woman as found in fashion magazines and calendars, as well as works by Pop artists such as Allen Jones. Selz produces diptychs using a photograph of a model from an advertisement and another of the artist herself imitating or reproducing the model’s pose. Then she mounts the photographs in a cement frame decorated with brightly coloured acrylic paint applied using implements for icing cakes. As if they were sugar or coloured sweets, pin-ups of women are displayed as visual objects to be consumed.
Jo Spence was central to the debates around photography, feminism and the critique of representation in the seventies and eighties. In 1973, together with Terry Dennett, she founded the Photography Workshop, an independent organisation dedicated to education, research and publishing, which included an exhibition space and resources for photographic production. In 1982, at the age of 46, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thereafter, her work became autobiographical, using photography as a tool for rebellion and therapy.
Esther Ferrer carried out her first performance in 1967, and since then that ephemeral practice has become the leitmotif of her work. The spectator’s role and the concept of her performances are similar to Bertol Brecht’s theater in which the absence of fiction on stage and the isolation that the spectator feels provoke consciousness and critical reflection. For Ferrer the performer is not an actor, but an element that executes an action, and what happens in a performance is real. It is evidence of materiality and moves away from any illusionist game. At the same time the artist tries to transmit a consciousness of the passing of time: Time, Space (which includes mental space) and Presence (hers and everyone’s) are elements that manipulate her actions in which she usually incorporates everyday objects: hammers, watches, tables, chairs, frames, threads, ropes, shoes, etc.
Martha Rosler did this performance at the University of California, San Diego, in 1974. Instructed by medical examiners, the artist gradually undresses so they can measure the different parts of her body. In 1977, Rosler reformulated the project and turned it into a video piece presented as an opera in three acts.
A white-coated male physician, assisted by three women also wearing white coats, measures the body of a woman in minute detail – right down to the articulations of her fingers and toes – as she undresses. While it is the man who does the measuring, the women accompany him to the sound of some kind of rattles, as if in a Greek chorus. At the end of the measuring, the woman puts on a black dress and leaves the scene.
In 1964 Nancy Spero moved to New York, where she was ignored by a male-orientated society focused on the aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism then in vogue. She decided to work with fragile materials, through which she critiqued the participation of the American government in the Vietnam War. Later, she created more personal works based on the tormented writings of the French poet Antonin Artaud. She also produced the Codex Artaud that was exhibited in 1973 at A.I.R., the first women’s gallery, founded by Nancy Spero and other artists a year earlier. These are fragile works on paper in which she used a combination of writing, drawing and collage.