The Pop Artists of the 1960s used the materials and imagery of popular culture (advertising, comic books, consumer products, etc) in the service of a fine art that at once reflected and commented upon 20th century materialism. Most of the famous Pop Artists were men – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselman. We tend to forget, if we ever knew, that there were women among the Pop Art brigade as well.
Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968 at the Tufts University Art Gallery in Medford, Massachusetts, is an exhibition of 68 artworks by 22 artists meant to address this oversight. Originally organized by the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery of The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Seductive Subversion (at Tufts January 27 to April 3) recently won the Best Thematic Show Nationally from the U.S. chapter of the International Art Critics Association.
“In recovering important female artists,” states the exhibition press release, “the show expands the canon to reflect more accurately the women working internationally during this period.”
Seductive Subversion features some very well-known artists such as Vija Celmins, Chryssa, Rosalyn Drexler, Niki de Saint Phalle, Marisol, and Faith Ringgold, though Celmins and Ringgold are not ordinarily thought of as Pop Artists. Most of the artists featured are far less well known. I have never, for instance, heard of artist Eveyline Axell, Letty Eidenhauer, Dorothy Grebenak, Dorothy Iannone, Kay Kurt, and Barbro Ostlihn. But then that’s the point, right?
What Seductive Subversion asks viewers to consider is both what women artists contributed to Pop Art and which women artists might justifiably be labeled Pop Artists. Because of male domination, it is difficult not to see the Pop Art of most of these women as derivative of their more famous male counterparts. Nor is it likely that any of the women of Pop will ever enjoy the iconic status of an Andy Warhol or a James Rosenquist.
Seductive Subversion curator Sid Sachs made the charge of sexism explicit in quoting artist Carolee Schneeman (not included in the exhibition) as saying the New York art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, “You had to shut up and affiliate yourself with interesting men and you had to be good looking.”
“Vacuuming Pop Art” by Martha Rosler pretty much tells the sad Seductive Subversion story. The 1967-72 photomontage is a satiric comment on the subservient role of women in the art world of the time. No wonder that a whole new wave of Feminist art arose in the wake of Pop.
The exhibition traveled from Philadelphia to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Brooklyn, New York, before arriving in Medford. This barnstorming will surely help with the revisionist mission of the exhibition.
[Tufts University Art Gallery, Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Ave., Medford, MA, 617-627-3518]