I’m not going to lie, with all that’s been going on in the world with a new wave of feminism, women coming out against being misrepresented in many mainstream media, as well as (still) openly fighting for equal rights and pay in the workforce, I had high, open expectations for the exhibition She at the David Winton Bell Gallery here in Providence. They pulled works from very big names in the contemporary art world, so one would expect this show to make a big statement. How wrong my expectations were.
She fell so flat for me. I was completely underwhelmed by the complete lack of dialogue between the works in this space. The work wasn’t necessarily the main problem, but it wasn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking that I’ve seen from any of the artists on display. The first problem was the how the ten works were arranged in the space itself. She initially left me with a sense that it could have been better if only the work were arranged differently. I even planned out ON PAPER an alternate layout of the works on display. I thought if only the work were rearranged, then maybe it could work? It’s just the layout, right? Sadly, the more I thought about it, I realized that the problem is rooted a little deeper than just how the work is arranged.
All works in the exhibition come from one private collection. While it was extremely generous of this collector to loan the work to the gallery for the exhibition, it presents a very singular outlook on the representation of women in contemporary art. Sure there are works from eleven different artists who have very different voices and agendas, BUT they’ve all been filtered through the taste of one individual, that of the collector. Maybe two if we consider that the curator had a say, but that’s SUCH a limited scope. She was pulled from a very narrow pool to present what is claimed to be a broad ranging exhibition of views of women from turn of the century contemporary art.
We’re so interconnected through the internet that one can hear the voices of a broad range of women in every social media outlet. We know the struggles of the women in every country and how they are represented or misrepresented. She isn’t a broad range of how women are represented in contemporary art, it’s a selective, first world, high art sampling with only one and a quarter woman of color thrown in for good measure. It’s a Hollywood Big budget movie exhibition with the acceptable tropes of women on display.
The more I process the intent and the execution of this exhibition, the more enraged I become not at the work itself, but at the missed opportunity by the coordinators to really dig deep and present something meaningful. You want to present a broad range of views of women in contemporary art? Don’t pull just from the collection of one person privileged enough to own first world art. You’ll truly present a broad range if works are pulled from the subcultures and movements that are struggling to be heard in the mainstream.
This is not a criticism of the artists involved, as I’m sure they had little say in their participation. It was good to see works by these artists and some of them have very interesting messages. But to say that it was a broad representation is a severe understatement. There were no works from women of color or from trans-women, much like what one would find in much of today’s mainstream media. We are in a time when people are fighting to present the full spectrum of what gender can mean! Don’t title your exhibition She if you have no intention of really, and I mean TRULY, presenting the whole of what that can possibly mean. I’ll give you a better alternative, “She: Representations of Women from World Class Contemporary Artists”. I think that gives a better scope of what you’re presenting with out the pretense of actually claiming to do something groundbreaking.
While She invoked more negative emotions in me than I thought possible, at least it was an exhibition that provoked conversations about issues that need to be discussed. Better that we become enraged and engaged in trying to fathom why we still need to fight for women’s representation and rights in every avenue of our culture than to feel completely apathetic. So I thank the coordinators. You certainly got people talking about how She could have been better and maybe that can help the momentum of pushing representations of women further in all avenues, especially in the art world.
I do look forward to the David Winton Bell Gallery’s upcoming juried ceramic exhibition and remain open (as always) to the endless possibilities within a space.
Artists on display until December 20th: Candace Breitz, Glenn Brown, George Condo, John Currin, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusuma, Chris Olifi, Jenny Saville, Cindy Sherman, Rebecca Warren, Lisa Yuskavage