Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection Burning Down the House comprises nearly fifty works of art drawn from the Brooklyn Museum and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art collections. Inspired by the feminist masterpiece The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, this exhibition features artists who have risen above the narrow roles imposed on women and whose work has challenged the status quo, particularly within the canons of art history. The exhibition title refers to the idea of the “master’s house” from two perspectives: the museum as the historical domain of male artists and professed masters of art history, and the house as the supposed proper province of women.
Burning Down the House is the first of many exhibitions planned to showcase the Museum’s holdings of feminist art. With the gift of The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago in 2002, and the establishment of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in March of 2007, the Museum embarked on an explicit mission to support work by feminist artists. Its aim is to create an exhibition space that will sustain the values of feminism—equality and justice for all—while inspiring and promoting diversity in institutional collections across the world.
Since its founding, the Museum has placed great importance on collecting and exhibiting work by women artists, beginning with the first Museum exhibition devoted solely to the art of Georgia O’Keeffe in 1927. Since then the Museum has held many solo exhibitions devoted to women, presenting the work of such outstanding artists as Mary Cassatt, Anni Albers, Louise Bourgeois,Consuelo Kanaga, Malvina Hoffman, Nancy Graves, Pat Steir, and Lee Krasner. The Museum has also historically collected important works by women, from acquiring major pieces by Berthe Morisot, Georgia O’Keeffe, Florine Stettheimer, Louise Nevelson, and Helen Frankenthaler to engaging with those by more recent feminist visionaries like Catherine Opie, Kara Walker, Jenny Saville, Berni Searle, and Hannah Wilke.
While feminists share the common goal of eradicating gender inequities, Burning Down the House does not assert a rigid definition of feminist art and ultimately suggests, through the diversity of forms, ideas, and voices, that feminist art is not limited to a particular look or reading. The history of feminist art is an ongoing conversation between past and present, yielding new interpretations with every generation and individual. As you walk through the exhibition, you will encounter “talking head” video iPods that feature interviews with artists in the exhibition. Here, the artists discuss the diverse ways their work relates to feminism, pointing to the great strengths of feminist art practice: its openness, richness, and complexity.
The installation was organized by Maura Reilly, founding curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Nicole J. Caruth, independent curator and former Manager of Interpretive Materials at the Brooklyn Museum.
August 4, 2008
Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection, an exhibition of nearly 50 works drawn from the holdings of the Brooklyn Museum and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art will be on view in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art October 31, 2008 through February 8, 2009. Inspired by The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, this exhibition features artists whose work has challenged the status quo and rise above the narrow roles imposed on women, particularly within the canons of art history.
The installation was organized by Maura Reilly, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Nicole Caruth, former Manager of Interpretive Materials. The exhibition title references the idea of the “master’s house” from two perspectives: the museum as the historical domain of white male artists and professed masters of art history, as well as domestic space often considered a woman’s proper province.
The majority of the exhibition comprises works by self-declared feminists and artists of later generations working within the historic framework of feminist art. The work represents widely diverse forms and ideas, suggesting that feminist art is not limited to a specific look or reading.
Among the works on view are Carrie Mae Weems’s Untitled (Man Smoking/Malcolm X), 1990, from her Kitchen Table series, which explores human experience from the vantage point of an African American female subject; a “femmage” painting by Miriam Schapiro titled Agony in the Garden that pays homage to Frida Kahlo; a haunting print by Kara Walker of a self-empowered heroine from the American antebellum South; and a bunny sculpture by Nayland Blake that challenges constructions of masculinity. Among the important loans from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections is one of Hannah Wilke’s major sculptures, Rosebud, from 1976.
Also included are several works previously on view that will be familiar to Museum visitors, seldom-seen works on paper, and a particular emphasis on recent acquisitions. Among the recent acquisitions on view are the 1979 work Sweet Smell of Sage Enters the Room by Ida Applebroog, whose site specific installation Everything is Fine was on view in 1992 as a part of the Grand Lobby series; and a 1981 photograph of a carved stylized female figure in limestone by Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta from her Goddess series taken in Jaruco, Cuba; Tomoko Sawada’s portrayal of herself as thirty different candidates for arranged marriages in Japan depicted in a variety of costumes from colorful kimonos and traditional Japanese dress to modestly tasteful, modern outfits. Others include works from Berni Searle’s famous Colour Me series (1998-2000) that addresses the colonial history of the artist’s native Cape Town, South Africa, employing the language of ethnography to display her body as a fetishized, racialized object; and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s painting Ghost Dance Dress from 2000, which is an iconic, spiritual work exploring the challenges of American and Native American cultural coexistence through the central symbol of a Plains woman’s dress.
Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection is the latest in a series of exhibitions in the main temporary exhibition space of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art that was inaugurated in 2007 with the landmark exhibition Global Feminisms, co-curated by Dr. Reilly and feminist scholar Linda Nochlin.
Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection is made possible by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation.