Ginnie Gardiner, Gatekeeper (2008), mixed-media collage, 7-3/4″ x 7″; courtesy the artist
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Are some art forms more gender friendly than others? Daughters of the Revolution: Women & Collage, an exhibition of 34 modern and contemporary artists, seeks to raise “important questions about the unique connection between collage and women’s experiences.” Taking his cue from “Femmage,” a 1978 essay written by artists Miriam Schapiro and Melissa Meyer, curator and dealer Pavel Zoubok cites material similarities between collage and craft traditions typically associated with women—among them, quilt-making and scrap-booking. Suggesting that the medium’s intimate scale inherently lent itself to artists historically “excluded from a conventional studio practice”—you can, after all, make the things on the kitchen table—Daughters of the Revolution elaborates upon a facet of Feminist theory with low-key insistence.
Which is to say, the exhibition doesn’t grind an axe so much as offer a sampler. A venue dedicated exclusively to collage, Zoubok is attuned to the medium’s aesthetic qualities—the “revolutionary” title points not only to Feminism, but to Clement Greenberg’s 1958 essay “Pasted Paper Revolution.”
New Yorkers with little taste for agitprop will welcome the exhibition’s rambling, relatively hands-off approach to art-as-politics: For every pronunciamento on “woman’s work”—the diffuse apron dialectic of Schapiro’s My Nosegays Are For Captives (1976) or Martha Rosler’s in-your-face commentary on consumerism and sex Hot Meat Body Beautiful (1966-72)—there is Anne Ryan’s Collage #640 (1953), a gently stated run of muffled textures and jewel-like tonalities, and Charmion von Weigand’s #154 (1965), a funky pseudo-Pop homage to the art of ancient Egypt.
Admittedly, collage is peculiarly suited for political service—Dadaism and, less overtly, Surrealism exploited the medium’s innate material and imagistic disjuncture to often-masterful polemical effect. The inclusion of Hannah Hoch’s cinematic Traumfahrt (1947) nods to Dada’s Berlin-axis, if not necessarily its heyday, but the best finds here—Ginnie Gardiner and Maritta Tapanaine—glance respectively upon Freudian portent and microcellular absurdism. With Gatekeeper (2008), Gardiner makes something tender and silky from Surrealism’s dreamlike amplitude and does it without capitulating to icky eroticism. It’s a fleet bit of magic and of a piece with a lovingly paced and engaging exhibition.
© 2009 Mario Naves
Originally published in the August 25, 2009 edition of City Arts.