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Libraries cosponsor feminist art exhibit

"Top Man"
by May Stevens

A major exhibition of trail-blazing American feminist art, "How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, 1970-1975," can be seen at the Mason Gross Galleries at Civic Square, 33 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, beginning Thursday, Dec. 15, through Friday, Jan. 27, 2006. The galleries are open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment. The exhibition, cosponsored by the Rutgers University Libraries, will focus on work created by American women artists in the crucial five-year span between 1970 and 1975.

"The women's art movement of the 1970s introduced bold new concepts into art practice that have become embedded in contemporary art today," says Judith K. Brodsky, professor emerita of visual arts, and co-curator of the exhibition. "These practices have become so widely accepted today that we tend to forget they were introduced through the feminist art movement. The purpose of this exhibition is to demonstrate and reinforce that connection."

Brodsky says feminist artists introduced new ways of looking at the body. They incorporated into high art the decorative materials often associated with women, and reintroduced the drama of narrative into art after a long period of dominance by abstraction. The exhibition features major, large-scale paintings by Judy Chicago, Joan Semmel, Sylvia Sleigh, Joan Snyder, Miriam Schapiro and Joyce Kozloff, and sculptures by Nancy Azara and Lynda Benglis. DVD film documentation of ground-breaking performances from the early 1970s by Carolee Schneemann, Eleanor Antin, Martha Wilson and Rachel Rosenthal - some of which have not been shown since they were created - will be featured in the installation. Also featured are the paintings and sculptures of Harmony Hammond, work concerning Judy Baca's "Great Wall of Los Angeles," Faith Ringgold's soft sculptures and tankas, and photographs by Mary Beth Edelson. Betty Saar's timely "Victory of Gentleness (Rosa Parks)," Nancy Spero's "Codex Artaud," Athena Tacha's early earthworks documentation, and the monumental tapestries of June Wayne are signal components of the show.

Ferris Olin, feminist art historian, librarian and head of the Margery Somers Foster Center at Rutgers' Mabel Smith Douglass Library, is co-curator of the exhibition. "We have worked to bring together signature works from the early 1970s by each artist," Olin says. "In the case of painters, for example, we'll have such influential works as Joan Semmel's paintings of the female body made from the perspective of the woman herself."

"How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, 1970-1975" is the inaugural exhibition in a nationwide series, "Indelible Marks: Framing Art and Feminism." The series of exhibitions and events, continuing through 2008, will celebrate the significant stature and increased visibility of art by women in America.

The "Indelible Marks" coordinating committee members are artist Judy Chicago; art historian Arlene Raven; Susan Fisher Sterling, director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Maura Reilly, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum; Dena Muller, Director of A.I.R. Gallery, together with Brodsky and Olin. The committee has established Rutgers as the institutional host of the national celebration. The Rutgers name will be associated with each event and exhibition in the series, many of which will take place at Rutgers venues in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Camden and Newark.

Posted November 30, 2005