From a review of “The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women,” at Cheim and Read, Sept. 2009, by Sarah Valdez, Art in America:
My women’s group met to discuss our upcoming exhibition of “Women by Women,” and two different members brought in this article. The New York exhibit included work by Nan Goldin, Tracey Emin, Alice Neel, Catherine Opie and Marina Abramovic.
It’s odd to call an exhibition with excellent examples of contemporary and historical female artists work a failure. But the work in it failed to accomplish its goal, which is anyway dated to say the least, of “reclaiming the traditional dominion of the ‘male gaze,’” as stated in the press release. Even if the appealing images in the show are of and made by women, who’s to say they defy the male—or anyone’s—gaze?
Instead, it proved only that women too can create commonplace—sexy, but not necessarily sexist—images that serve mainly to foreground women’s sexuality and beauty.
This opening paragraph of the review is upsetting. To use “failure” twice is strong language, especially when most of the artists listed above are fantastic in their various media and conceptual projects. Valdez was probably not the right person to review the show, if she thinks that considering the male gaze is “dated to say the least.” Most of the members of our group feel it is possible to defy the male gaze, or try, anyway. We approach it many ways: outright defiance, rejection of traditional stereotypes, working subversively within those stereotypes, creating power within existing tropes and ideals.
Women creating “commonplace,” “sexy” images to celebrate women’s sexuality was radical in the not-so-distant past. My images were recently rejected because they are “improper” (not the word used, but you get my point), so at least in SoCal, people can still be shocked by what a woman paints/photographs/sculpts, etc. The male gaze exists as ever, we experience it every f--ing day, and that Ms. Valdez doesn’t think defiance is important makes me wonder about her.
OK, let’s put on a show, girls…
(image by Rasmus Mogensen)