Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism

September 12, 2010 - January 30, 2011

This exhibition explores the origins and impact of feminism on contemporary painting from the 1960s to now. Eva Hesse, Joan Snyder, Deborah Kass, and many other artists forged new avenues for painting by expanding its subjects and inventing new techniques in abstraction, collage, and realism.

Over the past fifty years, feminists have defied an art world dominated by men, deploying direct action and theory while making fundamental changes in their everyday lives. Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism explores the widespread influence of feminist practice on the styles and methods of painting from the 1960s to the present. The provocative paintings on view here embody the tension between individual expression and collective politics, between a traditional medium and radical action.

While not a survey of Jewish feminist art, Shifting the Gaze is drawn primarily from the collection of the Jewish Museum, and features seven new acquisitions from the past three years. Some art historians have argued that Jewish feminists are particularly attuned to sexuality, radical politics, and injustice because of Jewish involvement in modernism and leftist politics. Indeed, Jewish painters have played decisive roles in founding and sustaining major feminist theories and art collectives. This exhibition explores how social revolutions take place not only in the realm of ideas and politics, but in style and form.

Shifting the Gaze is organized into six sections: self-expression, the body, decoration, politics, writing, and satire. These topics reflect the variety of styles and forms that individual painters, often working within activist groups, created to challenge viewers to rethink memory, home, art history, and ritual, and to confront anti-Semitism. Some of the paintings address issues specific to women artists, such as the representation of the body or the legitimacy of craft and decorative arts, while others address social issues that galvanized radical protest. As seen in these works, feminist painting generated new ideas and challenged old ones, shifting the gaze to encompass women’s history, experience, and material culture.

Since the 1980s, the Jewish Museum has supported the work of feminist artists through acquisitions and exhibitions in all media. To offer a historical framework for Shifting the Gaze, the curatorial staff created a list of over 550 women artists, from Renaissance Italian weavers to contemporary video artists, who have been represented in special exhibitions at the museum since 1947.

Made possible, in part, by the Melva Bucksbaum Fund for Contemporary Art.

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