“Womanhouse” was a 1972 art installation created by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of CalArts’ Feminist Art Program. Groundbreaking at the time for its dedication in encouraging female artists to carve their own path, by contemporary standards it would appear to have a rather narrow focus on white, heterosexual, and middle-class women. So the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art (NCWCA) decided it was time for an update.
“F*ck You! In the Most Loving Way: A National Feminist Art Exhibition” is their answer. The show, up through Jan. 21, 2017, at SoMa’s Arc Gallery, brings together 52 artists to speak out against the continuation of sexism and misogyny in contemporary culture.
It came together quickly, says NCWCA exhibitions chair Leisel Whitlock, who coined the provocative title. She’s especially pleased that she and her fellow organizers were able to obtain new work by Faith Wilding, the 73-year-old Paraguayan-American multidisciplinary artist who was also involved in “Womanhouse.”
When it comes to women’s lack of representation in the art world, Whitlock says, gallerists and museum administrators have often fallen back on the “cop-out” that it has limited appeal, in comparison with work by men that’s “universal.” But in this context, the word fit.
“You push back against curators,” she says. “But in this piece, I felt as a woman, that it was so universal — and I think my life experience and Faith Wilding’s are probably vastly different. We’re from different eras, different cultures. I don’t think she has children, and I’m a mother. But it hit me.”
For programming chair Tanya Augsburg, the younger featured artists are equally crucial. “F*uck You” tapped Emma Sulkowicz, a graduate student who’s best known for Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), a year-long undergraduate project in which she lugged a mattress around Columbia University to protest the official response — from the school and from law enforcement — to her claim that a fellow student raped her.
“The thing about feminist art is that it makes women’s invisible condition visible,” Augsburg says.
Sulkowicz, in turn, brought on Violet Overn, daughter of the acclaimed performance artist Karen Finley and an artist in her own right, known for her Fraternity House photo series.
“She had herself photographed prostrate in front of frat houses,” Augsburg says. “It addresses the rape culture on college campuses today. What’s really nice about this exhibit is that it has this intergenerational aspect.”
Pushing frank sexuality further to the fore is Rokudenashiko, the Japanese artist whose fight against obscenity charges over her pursuit of demystifying the female genitalia “had basically been in prison for her art,” in Augsburg’s words.
“I really liked the piece with the Buddha, she says, referring to a gold-hued sculpture, The Buddha Manko. “It incorporates an image of her own genitals, and she has a Buddha right in front it. Why are a woman’s genitals so taboo when they have testicles for the phallus couched under religious ceremonies?”
“Talk about ‘Fuck you in the most loving way,’ ” Augsburg says.
“F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way: A National Feminist Art Exhibition,” through Jan. 21, 2017, at Arc Gallery, 1246 Folsom St., ncwca.org