Lynn Hershman Leeson, the director of the award winning !Women Art Revolution and a producer on the project, spent some 42 years immersed in the women’s art movement, much of it with her finger on the record button of a camera. Luckily for us she handles a camera with skill and aplomb.
As the major players passed in front of her viewfinder, she had the foresight to capture them on film as they shared their anger, frustrations, joys, and successes - in effect their story. This documentary film is a collage of these encounters, a witness to the birth of a movement, and as such a priceless record of the forces behind tectonic shifts in the American art scene.
Have we come to take for granted today in 2011 what could only be dreamed of 1988 when Linda Nochlin asked, “Why have there been no superstar women artists?“ (Women, Art, and Power, and Other Essays, Westview Press: Boulder). Or are we still decades from the reality of major women players granted equal opportunity in the art marketplaces of America?
While the film doesn’t bring us up to the present - the focus is on the relationship of the Feminist Art Movement to the anti-war and civil rights movements - we can only hope Hershman Leeson has a sequel in the works.
Detailing major political and artistic developments in the 1970s, the film outlines the catalysts behind the politicization of women artists in America. New ways of thinking about the complexities of gender, race, class, and sexuality were evolving at the time and these forces in tandem generated a wave of demand for change in both the art market and the institutions in which high Art was legitimized.
This passion for change led to the development of art education programs; the establishment of political organizations and alternative art spaces such as the A.I.R. Gallery and Franklin Furnace in New York and the Los Angeles Women’s Building; the publication of journals such as Chrysalis and Heresies; and landmark exhibitions, performances, and installations of public art, all of which is documented in the film.
Hershman Leeson filmed nearly 13,000 minutes of material. Most of these first-person histories have been digitized and are now available on the Stanford University Library website. The collection also includes the transcripts, and biographies of the interviewees.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note that as the number of women gaining higher education increased, so grew the number of women finding opportunity and voice in the world of art. See my earlier post Tricky Women: Women In Animation for a parallel pattern in the world of animation.
Carrie Brownstein composed the original score and contributions from Laurie Anderson, Janis Joplin, Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, Erase Errata and Tribe 8 enrich the eclectic and intriguing soundtrack.
The booklet, which can be purchased from the website store, is packed with valuable resources. It begins with a short but engaging graphic synopsis of the most incongruous and irrational moments in the film illustrated by well known underground cartoonist Spain Rodriguez.
A transcription of the film’s 2006 interview with Marcia Tucker follows. This valuable reminiscence of a major player in the history of art in America (Marcia Tucker was the first women curator at the Whitney Museum) makes for memorable reading.
The better part of the booklet consists of two comprehensive curriculum guides. The first, covering the visual arts, was prepared by Dr. Claire Daigle, Assistant Professor, History and Theory of Contemporary Art, San Francisco Art Institute. The second, on film and video, was prepared by Dr. Fiona Summers, Honorary Research Fellow, Lancaster University.
Focusing on the history of women in relation to these two fields, they are unmatched assets. Each guide includes a thorough introduction, key questions for a course on the subject, a timeline of the major events, an extensive list of primary and secondary readings, a list of related key journals and websites, and a rich bibliography.
While I noted that Germaine Greer’s The Obstacle Race (London: Secker & Warburg) did not appear in the art section bibliography, I did discover many titles that I wasn’t previously familiar with.
!Women Art Revolution is an absorbing documentary and the accompanying booklet a valuable educational resource. For the broad international audience it deserves, a more accurate title might be !Women Art Revolution: the American Story.
As a history of the awakening and establishment of the women’s art movement in America, it is a superb resource. The film and booklet combo is a highly recommended package for the following areas of study: Art, Film Studies, History, and Women’s Studies at the high school, college, and university levels. And it is a must buy for libraries that collect texts on these subjects.
The film can be ordered by educators in North America from Zeitgeistfilms.
For more information from the distributor, contact:Benjamin Crossley-MarraDirector of Non-Theatrical SalesZeitgeistfilms247 Centre St, 2nd fl New York, NY 10013 P: 212-274-1989 F: 212-274-1644
For more information on the documentary itself and the making of the film, visit the project’s website.
To see my brief overview post on the same subject, go to Women in Art and Animation.