Radical Women: Stream the Getty’s Podcast That Features Six Major 20th-Century Artists, All Female

Only recent­ly has “actor” become an accept­able gen­der-neu­tral term for per­form­ers of stage and screen.

Pri­or to that, we had “actor” and “actress,” and while there may have been some prob­lem­at­ic assump­tions con­cern­ing the type of woman who might be drawn to the pro­fes­sion, there was arguably lin­guis­tic par­i­ty between the two words.

Not so for artists.

In the not-so-dis­tant past, female artists invari­ably found them­selves referred to as “female artists.”

Not great, when male artists were referred to as (say it with me) “artists.”

The new sea­son of the Getty’s pod­cast Record­ing Artists pays trib­ute to six sig­nif­i­cant post-war artists—two Abstract Expres­sion­ists, a por­traitist, a per­for­mance artist and exper­i­men­tal musi­cian, and a print­mak­er who pro­gressed to assem­blage and col­lage works with an overt­ly social mes­sage.

Hope­ful­ly you won’t need to reach for your smelling salts upon dis­cov­er­ing that all six artists are female:

Alice Neel

Lee Kras­ner

Betye Saar

Helen Franken­thaler

Yoko Ono

and Eva Hesse

Host Helen Molesworth is also female, and up until recent­ly, served as the much admired Chief Cura­tor of LA’s Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art. (Accord­ing to artist Lor­na Simp­son’s take on Molesworth’s abrupt dis­missal: “Women who have a point of view and stand by it are often pun­ished. Just because you get rid of Helen Molesworth doesn’t mean you have solved ‘the prob­lem.’)

Molesworth, who is joined by two art world guests per episode—some of them (gasp!) non-female—is the per­fect choice to con­sid­er the impact of the Rad­i­cal Women who give this sea­son its sub­ti­tle.

We also hear from the artists them­selves, in excepts from taped ’60s and ’70s-era inter­views with his­to­ri­ans Cindy Nemser and Bar­bara Rose.

Their can­did remarks give Molesworth and her guests a lot to con­sid­er, from the dif­fi­cul­ties of main­tain­ing a con­sis­tent artis­tic prac­tice after one becomes a moth­er to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. A lot of atten­tion is paid to his­tor­i­cal con­text, even when it’s warts and all.

The late Alice Neel, a white artist best remem­bered for her por­traits of her black and brown East Harlem neigh­bors and friends, cracks wise about butch les­bians in Green­wich Vil­lage, prompt­ing Molesworth to remark that she thinks she—or any artist of her acquaintance—could have “eas­i­ly” swayed Neel to can the homo­pho­bic remarks.

It’s also pos­si­ble that Neel, who died in 1984, would have kept step with the times and made the nec­es­sary cor­rec­tion unprompt­ed, were she still with us today.

A cou­ple of the sub­jects, Yoko Ono and Betye Saar, are alive …and active­ly cre­at­ing art, though it’s their past work that seems to be the source of great­est fas­ci­na­tion.

When New York City’s Muse­um of Mod­ern Art reopened its doors fol­low­ing a major phys­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal reboot, vis­i­tors were treat­ed to The Leg­ends of Black Girl’s Win­dow, an exhi­bi­tion of the 94-year-old Saar’s work from the ‘60s and ‘70s. New York­er crit­ic Doreen St. Félix bemoaned the “absence of explic­it­ly black-fem­i­nist works,” par­tic­u­lar­ly The Lib­er­a­tion of Aunt Jemi­ma, a mixed media assem­blage, Molesworth dis­cuss­es at length in the pod­cast episode ded­i­cat­ed to Saar.

MoMA also played host to a mas­sive exhi­bi­tion of Ono’s ear­ly work in 2015, prompt­ing the New York Times crit­ic Hol­land Cot­ter to pro­nounce her “imag­i­na­tive, tough-mind­ed and still under­es­ti­mat­ed.”

This is a far cry bet­ter than New York Times crit­ic Hilton Kramer’s dis­missal of Neel’s 1974 ret­ro­spec­tive at the Whit­ney, when the artist was 74 years old:

… the Whit­ney, which can usu­al­ly be count­ed on to do the wrong thing, devot­ed a solo exhi­bi­tion to Alice Neel, whose paint­ings (we can be rea­son­ably cer­tain) would nev­er have been accord­ed that hon­or had they been pro­duced by a man. The pol­i­tics of the sit­u­a­tion required that a woman be giv­en an exhi­bi­tion, and Alice Neel’s paint­ing was no doubt judged to be suf­fi­cient­ly bizarre, not to say inept, to qual­i­fy as some­thing ‘far out.’”

Twen­ty six years lat­er, his opin­ion of Neel’s tal­ent had not mel­lowed, though he had the polit­i­cal sense to dial down the misog­y­ny in his scathing Observ­er review of Neel’s third show at the Whit­ney…or did he? In cit­ing cura­tor Ann Temkin’s obser­va­tion that Neel paint­ed “with the eye of a car­i­ca­tur­ist” he makes sure to note that Neel’s sub­ject Annie Sprin­kle, “the porn star who became a per­for­mance artist, is her­self a car­i­ca­ture, no mock­ery was need­ed.”

One has to won­der if he would have described the artist’s nude self-por­trait at the age of 80 as that of “a geri­atric ruin” had the artist been a man.

Lis­ten to all six episodes of Record­ing Artists: Rad­i­cal Women and see exam­ples of each subject’s work here.

And while nei­ther Saar nor Ono added any cur­rent com­men­tary to the pod­cast, we encour­age you to check out the inter­views below in which they dis­cuss their recent work in addi­tion to reflect­ing on their long artis­tic careers:

“‘It’s About Time!’ Betye Saar’s Long Climb to the Sum­mit” (The New York Times, 2019)

“The Big Read – Yoko Ono: Imag­ine The Future” (NME, 2018)

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Data­base, Will Fea­ture Works by 600+ Over­looked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Cen­turies

Women Who Draw: Explore an Open Direc­to­ry That Show­cas­es the Work of 5,000+ Female Illus­tra­tors

A New Archive Tran­scribes and Puts Online the Diaries & Note­books of Women Artists, Art His­to­ri­ans, Crit­ics and Deal­ers

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Feb­ru­ary 3 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates New York: The Nation’s Metrop­o­lis (1921). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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