Essentials: 7 Rousing Books on Feminist Art and Artists
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Despite the common label, there’s no one style you can call feminist art. As the critic Lucy Lippard noted, feminist art isn’t a “movement” but rather “a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life.” Put another way, feminist art is more about attitude than form, and in that respect, it isn’t limited in time. Indeed, while women artists were routinely written out of art history until very recently, it’s possible to find work that was “feminist” avant la lettre—like Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (1612–13). So, while most people date feminist art to the fight for women’s equality during the late 1960s and early ’70s, it actually stretches beyond that period to encompass not only the past but the present and future as well—as our list of recommended books on feminist art can attest. (Prices and availability current at time of publication.)
1. Lucy Lippard, From the Center
Much as she would do for Conceptual Art with Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object, Lucy Lippard created something of an ur-text on the subject of feminist art with this collection of essays published in 1976. Compiled from writings that had appeared in Artforum and elsewhere, From the Center is divided between critical texts and reviews of the work of Adrian Piper, Nancy Graves and Marjorie Strider, among others. Taken as a whole, the book deconstructs how a male-dominated art world systematically discouraged female artists, leading the way to an eventual redress that remains ongoing.
Purchase: From the Center $30.38 (used) on Amazon
2. Apsara DiQuinzio (ed.), et al., New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century
This exhibition catalog takes the aforementioned quote by Lucy Lippard as the premise for a survey of works made since the turn of the millennium by an intergenerational roster of women artists including Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Kiki Smith, and Kara Walker. True to Lippard’s sentiment, the objects and installations on view do not conform to any one agenda or style, reflecting the diversification of feminist viewpoints in the new century. Still, New Time doesn’t neglect the movement’s roots as it explores its subject through themes such as the gaze, women’s anger, and the cliché of female hysteria.
Purchase: New Time $44.95 (newother) on Amazon
3. Amelia Jones and Erin Silver (eds.), Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories
When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, LGBTQ people were still closeted, and queer was a pejorative term. Since then, the word has been appropriated as a badge of honor, especially in the art world, where queer aesthetics has become a genre. Yet as this book makes clear, QA has yet to be fully integrated into feminist art history, an issue that mirrors the larger debate around intersectionality within feminism as a whole. In this collection of essays, various writers offer their arguments for why a “queer” feminist perspective should be included in the history of art.
Purchase: Otherwise $27.95 (new) on Amazon
4. Maura Reilly (ed.), Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader
Among the critics championing women artists, the case can be made that none were as important as Linda Nochlin. In 1971 she published her bombshell treatise “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” which quickly made her name by firing the first shots against the conceits of a male-dominated art world. Nochlin took the title, a common question at the time, and upended its meaning by answering that there were indeed great women artists; they’d just been written out of the record by men. The article anchors this anthology of her writings, which includes major themed essays and monographs on women artists such as Mary Cassatt, Louise Bourgeois, and Kiki Smith.
Purchase: Women Artists $22.07 (new) on Amazon
5. Annette Jael Lehmann, Philipp Kaiser, et al., Tacit Knowledge: Post Studio/Feminism: CalArts 1970–1977
The California Institute of the Arts is known as one of the select art schools where earning an MFA offers a shot at art-world success. It minted a number of male 1980s art stars, but as Tacit Knowledge reveals, it also incubated feminist art during the ’70s through its Feminist Art Program. Taught by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, FAP was women-only and dealt with subjects such as menstruation and rape. It’s one of two CalArts courses explored in this double-sided magazine-format tome (with separate covers front and back), the other being John Baldessari’s post-studio class. Drawing on primary sources, the book demonstrates that while these courses differed, they shared a similar outside-the-box approach to art.
Purchase: Tacit Knowledge $32.05 (new) on Amazon
6. Meg Duguid (ed.), Where the Future Came From: A Collective Research Project on the Role of Feminism in Chicago’s Artist-Run Culture from the Late-Nineteenth Century to the Present
Although most people may not know it, female artists were a significant presence in Chicago’s art scene from the late 19th century onward. During the city’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, women painters and sculptors from 46 countries were featured in a juried exhibit at the fair’s Palace of Fine Arts and were also exhibited in a pavilion called the Woman’s Building. This book, which accompanied a combination show/symposium/residency at Columbia College Chicago’s Glass Curtain Gallery, touches on that legacy as it details the many collectives, clubs, and spaces run by women artists over the past 125 years.
Purchase: Where the Future Came From $5.80 (new) on Amazon
7. Helena Reckitt, Peggy Phelan, Art and Feminism
True to Phaidon’s “Themes and Movements” series on modern and contemporary art, Art and Feminism is a comprehensive overview of its subject from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. Coauthors Helena Reckitt and Peggy Phelan note the impact of feminist practice, the gendered biases it exposed, the diverse forms of expression it took, and its central role in transforming 20th-century art history. Reckitt and Phelan include seminal period essays by Simone de Beauvoir, Lucy R. Lippard, and Craig Owens while reexamining the works of such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Pipilotti Rist.
Purchase: Art and Feminism $115.50 (used) on Amazon