Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Feminist dialogue

Judy Chicago's Gunsmoke: the artist as the victim in one of her early works

By New Worker correspondent

Feminist artists have been around for a   long time but is there really such a thing as feminist art? Well we may find the answer to this at an exhibition of the works of four major women artists currently showing at the Ben Uri art museum in north London.
Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Tracey Emin have all achieved critical acclaim over the years and this collection of the output of these American and British artists has been brought together for the first time under the banner of  A Transatlantic Dialogue.
Judy Cohen changed her name to Chicago in 1970 in a protest against patriarchy.   A pioneer of the feminist art movement, she coined the term ‘feminist art’ and she was clearly an inspiration for the other three artists.
 Her most famous work is probably The Dinner Party which is an installation which uses 39 symbolic plates at the table  to illustrate the “progress” of women throughout history while Tracey Emin is best known for her  controversial ‘unmade bed’.  But while this exhibition concentrates on their small scale works they typify the output of these four artists over the decades.
The themes deal with sexuality, male domination and female assertiveness in differing ways but they largely ignore the reality of the life of working women. These semi biographical images of menstruation, birth and female servitude may tell us a lot about the artists and their self-obsession but they do little more than convey a feeling of indifference and depression.
Any serious student of modern art of the latter apart of the twentieth century would probably find this exhibition fascinating but whether it concretely contributes to the struggle for equality is debatable.
The Ben Uri Gallery, which incorporates the London Jewish Museum of Art, goes back to 1915 when the Ben Uri Art Society was founded in the East End of London in 1915 by the Russian emigre artist, Lazar Berson to provide an art venue for Jewish immigrant craftsmen and artists to exhibit their works. Today it  houses the world’s most distinguished body  of work by artists of European Jewish descent.
The gallery holds over 1,200 works, representing major avant-garde movements and encompassing a broad range of 20th-century modern British art. Though only a fraction of collection can ever be displayed in the current cramped building in Camden it nevertheless provides a window to the contribution made by Jewish artists to the avant-garde movement.
The Ben Uri Gallery is at 108A Boundary Road, London NW8 0RH and the exhibition runs tol 10th March. Admission is £5 and it is open Monday 1pm - 4pm, Tuesday  to Friday  10am - 5.30pm and Sunday 12pm to 4pm.