As radical social changes rocked 1960s America, the contemporary art world remained largely a boys' club that largely ignored female Pop artists as their male counterparts grew to become icons of the era, according to a new exhibit.
"Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968," an exhibit at the University of the Arts from Friday until March 15, focuses exclusively on the forgotten women of Pop Art and shows about 50 works — some not seen publicly in 40 years — of 20 female Pop artists from the United States and around the world.
Sid Sachs, director of the university's Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, was inspired to create the show after curating a 2002 retrospective of dancer and experimental filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. Why, he wondered, were she and other female artists of the 1960s not included in the art canon alongside Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein?
"It was like an entire generation of women artists was missing," he said. It took more than six years of researching the women and tracking down their work from museums, private collections and estates to assemble the show.
Perhaps among the better known artists in the exhibit are Marisol Escobar, whose 1963 "John Wayne" sculpture, commissioned by Life magazine for an issue on movies, is on display, and Yayoi Kusama, who continues to create groundbreaking art with her trademark hallucinatory polka-dot motifs.
Soft sculptures popularized by Oldenburg's huge deflated fans, and use of repetition like Warhol's multicolor Marilyns, were styles created first by female artists, Sachs said. Although both sexes addressed the era's political and sexual issues, women often "were more tongue-in-cheek than savage," he said.
Niki de Saint Phalle, Chryssa Vardea and Rosalyn Drexler are among the other artists in the exhibit. A two-day symposium is slated for Feb. 5-6 to discuss the artists and their contributions to the Pop movement.
There are many reasons that feminism's second wave didn't carry female contemporary artists to the levels of recognition and respect reached by their male counterparts, said University of the Arts professor and art historian Nancy Heller.
She said women have been systematically excluded from the art world since the 16th century, and Pop Art was marginalized by academics and critics because of its popularity and humor. Add to that a perception among gallery owners that "female artists don't sell" and the fact that women often put their careers on hold to raise children.
"Things have changed. It has gotten better, but there's also a lot of lip service," Heller said. "Unless there's vigilance, it's easy to backslide."
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