The Cut: At the Aldrich, Revisiting a Groundbreaking Show for Feminist Art

June 7, 2022

Ann Binlot

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In 1970, protesters descended on the Whitney Museum of American Art to demand that its (overwhelmingly male) Annual exhibit at least 50 percent works by women, and that half of those women are Black. The Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee—which included artists Faith Ringgold, Poppy Johnson, and Brenda Miller, along with critic Lucy Lippard—had a sit-in at the museum, and placed tampons and eggs bearing the message “fifty percent” around the site. 

For Lippard, it didn’t end there. The next year, in 1971, the activist, art critic, and curator organized the groundbreaking exhibition “Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “I took on this show because I knew there were many women artists whose work was as good or better than that currently being shown, but who, because of the prevailingly discriminatory policies of most galleries and museums, can rarely get anyone to visit their studios or take them as seriously as their male counterparts,” wrote Lippard in the exhibition catalogue. Current Aldrich senior curator Amy Smith-Stewart adds, “Women artists had no visibility in the art world in 1971. Their voices had been silenced, excised, and expunged for centuries.” 

Fifty-one years later and five years in the making, the Aldrich revisits that pivotal exhibition with “52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone.” On view through January 8, 2023, the new iteration features 26 female and nonbinary New York–based artists born in or after 1980 alongside the original 26 artists. “‘52 Artists’ is both homage and manifesto: a time capsule tracking feminist art’s production over half a century. It characterizes feminist art’s transformative possibilities,” says Smith-Stewart. “Lippard’s original ‘Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists’ catalyzed the fight. ‘52 Artists’ demonstrates its revolutionary persistence. Both activate our imaginations to consider what another 50 years could bring.” 

Although large strides have been made in the last half-century, art exhibitions remain overwhelmingly male and white—a 2019 study found that 87 percent of artists in museum collections at the time were male, and 85 percent were white. “We of course have a ways to go, and new threats to our autonomy, but to get to where we are now, artistically, because of the battles they fought, is really remarkable and makes me feel very fortunate and indebted to the legacy that precedes me,” says Loie Hollowell, one of the next generation of artists in the show. “By simply doing—continuing to make your work—we are collectively pushing the boundaries of equality so that future generations of female artists can find themselves in a position to freely pursue their art with fewer domestic and industry-inequality restrictions,” adds Susan Chen, another one of the younger artists appearing. 

Keep scrolling to see the work of ten featured artists—first, five newcomers, and then five from the 1971 exhibition—and how each views being a woman through their art, as well as in life and as an artist, historically and today. 

Anna Park 

Anna Park uses charcoal on paper to create provocative, large-scale panels that comment on everything from Hollywood excess to the pressures of being female to politics. The South Korea–born Park’s expressive work adds a dynamic twist to figuration that’s all her own. For Glitter Ain’t Gold, Park looks at the sexualization of young women. 

“A cascade of hands encompasses a woman in a baby-doll dress, her head tilted back with an arm outstretched to beg the question: Is she willingly submitting herself to the chaos that encroaches upon her? Or is she left powerless to her surroundings? Glitter Ain’t Gold was created to represent the nature in which society fetishizes and sexualizes young women. The figure represents the innocence being robbed and the environment to be pressures that the world presents. 

The contextualization between the different generations of female artists is an important reminder of how different the landscape was to be a female artist at the time. The artists in the original 1971 exhibition paved the way for the current generation of female artists to exist in the space.”

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