Student artist expands feminist dialogue

Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities, an exhibition curated by senior art history major Taylor Davis ’16, will be on view in Groot Gallery in Dittmann until March 6. The exhibition celebrates the multiplicity of form and meaning found in feminist art, and includes work by Minnesota-based Hend Al-Mansour, Mary Bergs, Elizabeth Garvey, Jess Larson and Patricia Olson, as well as Sadie Benning, The Guerrilla Girls and Kiki Smith. The work engages with an array of theoretical concerns, and ranges in media from print, painting and video to installation, fiber and sculpture.

“These works defy narrow definitions, and range from highly political calls for gender equality to quitter reflections on women’s domestic production,” Davis wrote in an essay accompanying the exhibition. “They banish any misconception that feminist art is simplistic or otherwise restricted. Most significantly, this feminist exhibition strives to indict the art establishment’s sexist exclusion of art made by women.”

Davis curated the exhibition as a distinction project in lieu of the traditional extended paper. The exhibition is part of The Guerrilla Girls’ Twin Cities Takeover, which consists of exhibitions and events at over 20 arts and cultural organizations in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding cities. The Guerilla Girls is a group of anonymous art activists who have condemned the art establishment’s sexism and racism since the 1980s. The group’s Twin Cities Takeover is a collective effort to highlight inequalities, debunk stereotypes, expose hypocrisies and advocate for greater equality in the art world and beyond. One of the Guerrilla Girls’ posters, which asks, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” is featured in Look Again.

In the fall of last year, Davis began her curatorial project by reaching out to a number of Minnesota-based artists who feminist-inspired art. While doing research for the exhibition, she learned of Women’s Art Resource of Minnesota (WARM), which was founded in 1973 by a group of female artists. One of the individuals featured in this exhibition, Twin Cities-based artist Patricia Olson, was one of the founding members of WARM. Five of the artists in the exhibition are Minnesota-based, and Taylor was responsible for finding the artists, conducting studio visits and selecting the works for the exhibition.

“I visited the artists, talked with them about their work and their career, and then selected the works that best fit in the exhibition, ones that go well with each other, and then we figured out loan agreements,” Davis said.

One of the well-known artists included in the gallery is Kiki Smith, a printmaker and sculpture whose art explores new ways of depicting the human form, often reimagining traditional depictions of women. (Kiki Smith did not lend her print. The print is from Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum). Smith’s print, “Untitled (Hair),” was created from photocopied images of the artist’s hair. The print’s depiction of swirling, Medusa-like strands of hair rejects traditional standards of feminine beauty. The viewer is presented with a “self possessed, even menacing depiction of a woman that counteracts any attempt to objectify the female form it represents,” Davis writes.

Davis noted that the best part of her student curatorial work was working directly with the artists. She plans to pursue a curatorial career after graduation, and looks forward to working with contemporary art and artists. Curating this exhibition provided her an invaluable opportunity.

“I respect artists a lot because I believe they have a special ability to teach us about our world,” Davis said. “Art can give us a new perspective on the world, and allow us to see things in a new light. I learned an incredible amount working with the artists whose work is in this exhibition, and I’m grateful for the relationships that grew out of this project.”

One of the most important aspects of Davis’ exhibition is the diversity incorporated in the group of pieces. She hopes to emphasize that feminist art is diverse rather than limiting. It includes the intersection of many issues such as race, class and gender.

“I think one of the most significant things about feminist art is that it deals with something that is really important to our lives, which is gender,” Davis said. “Gender affects us all in very different ways, but throughout Western history, the art that has been considered ‘great’ has been created almost exclusively by white men. The work created by these men often presumed a heterosexual male viewer, and portrayed women as sexual objects rather than as strong, autonomous individuals. Feminist art challenges the objectification of women, and probes the meaning of gender.”

Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities is open through March 6 and all are encouraged to visit the exhibition in Groot Gallery in Dittmann. An opening reception will be held on February 19 from 7-9 p.m., and Davis hopes to see many people there to experience the work that she is so excited to share with the St. Olaf community.