Thursday, October 21, 2010

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968, Brooklyn Museum

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968
is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from October 15, 2010 - January 9, 2011. The exhibition looks at the contribution of women artists to the male-dominated Pop art movement on a large scale, exhibiting the work of 25 artists such as Martha Rosler, Marisol, and Yayoi Kusama. More than 50 works in a wide array of media fill both the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and the Shapiro Wing galleries.

Martha Rosler’s photomontage, Vacuuming Pop Art, 1966-72, uses cheeky imagery to show the woman’s role in the art world in the 1960’s. In the middle of a hallway that hangs Pop art prints, Rosler photomontaged a picture straight from a home magazine advertisement of a woman vacuuming, posed with a cheery disposition. This work hints that the woman’s participation in Pop art was unseen to the public, because at the time, the only recognized place for a woman was in the home.

Marisol’s life-sized wooden sculptures, The Bicycle Riders, 1962, also explores the woman’s role in the public sphere. In the middle of the gallery are two wooden figures posed on bicycles. In the lead, by a few feet, is a figure with a male face painted in white and sporting cool shades and a hat. The number “one” is painted in red on its chest. The other figure has the number “two” painted on its chest along with female breasts drawn in graphite. This figure has two heads, a black male’s stacked on top a female’s head, a sort of totem pole for second-place citizens.

Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, had an important place in this exhibition, which included her film, Kusama’s Self-Obliteration, 1967, and one of her soft sculptures, Accumulation, No. 1, 1962. Kusama’s Self-Obliteration is a repetitive and layered film in which male and female performers were painted and covered with pieces of fabric while they danced around and mimicked sexual activity. Kusama creates her own decadent ritual in this 24 minute film that sits uncomfortably against popular culture.

Walking away from a show of this size, the viewer is left with an important piece of art history that was left out in a time when women’s contributions to society were, on a whole, unrecognized. In recent re-examination of these women Pop artists, their contributions to the art world can no longer be seen as insignificant. Yayoi Kusama alone sold a work in 2008 for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist.


  1. I liked your description of these three works and their relevance to this male-dominated art movement. I think that in order to both emphasize the significance of these female contributions to Pop Art and end your review with a strong concluding statement, it may be helpful to rearrange your last two sentences.

    There is a subject/verb agreement error in the third paragraph, first sentence – “sculptures […] explores”. Also in that sentence, I might change “the woman’s role” to either “the female role” or “women’s roles” in order to make it clear that you aren’t referring to one woman in particular. This phrase appears a couple of times in the second paragraph as well.

  2. I think you definitely got the feeling of unearthed female history across though I might stray away from cliche statements such as "the only recognized place for a woman was in the home."
    When talking about Kusama's work I think it would be helpful to add a little clarification toward the end of the paragraph. Especially after saying "Kusama creates her own decadent ritual in this 24 minute film that sits uncomfortably against popular culture." How does her work sit uncomfortably? Perhaps a different verb would be useful.