seductive subversion: women pop artists

If you live around these parts (the greater Boston area), you only have a few days left to head over to Tufts University and catch a truly amazing (and free!) exhibit of mostly unknown women pop artists from the 1950s and 1960s.

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968 is the last (and only New England) stop for the exhibit that premiered at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Click here for the Brooklyn Museum’s complete WikiPop catalog of the exhibit.

Suck it up. Martha Rosler (American, b. 1943). Vacuuming Pop Art, 1966–72. Photomontage, 24 x 20 in. (50.8 x 61 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (from BrooklynMuseum.org)

Like motherhood, being an artist can be a thankless, lonely task. You do it for love, not money. The urge to (pro)create is all-consuming. Most of the artists featured in the Tufts exhibit have long been forgotten, in spite of their obvious influences on Warhol, Litchenstein, mass advertising and current media—Idelle Weber’s giant murals of businessmen on escalators are precursors to Mad Men’s opening credits:

Going nowhere, fast. Idelle Weber (American, b. 1932). Munchkins I, II & III, 1964. Acrylic on linen, 72 x 120 in. (182.9 x 306.1 cm). Courtesy of the artist (BrooklynMuseum.org)

Throughout history, women artists have struggled to balance their roles as artists, wives, mothers, and assistants to their better-known artist husbands and partners. The artists in this exhibit poke fun at and expose the emptiness behind our consumer-driven culture, doing their part to chip away at entrenched stereotypes about women and the roles 1960s American society expected them to play.

In the documentary short that accompanies the exhibit, artist Idelle Weber says:

Being a woman artist was a hindrance in the 60s. Men just didn’t consider you their equal, because women had never been [equals]…We were all ordinary people doing extraordinary stuff, and that was the 60s.

Some things never change! Being a woman is still a hindrance when it comes to carving out any sort of career.

Walking through the exhibit got me thinking about the women artists I personally know and love, some of whom got their start in the 1960s. One in particular, Karen Moss, explores similar themes featured in the Tufts’ exhibit.

Karen is my (subversive and wonderful) neighbor. In Strangeness in the Suburbs, modern childhood is nightmarish and traumatic:

Strangeness in the Suburbs, from the Coloring Book Hybrids series by Karen Moss. Acrylic paint on paper 26" x 80" 2010 (KarenMoss.com)

As Karen explains on her website:

In this…body of work children and animals inhabit an anxious and unsettled world where food can be unhealthy, the natural environment endangered, and the streets unsafe. Added to these disturbing problems are the pressures of the consumer culture which contribute to eating disorders and insatiable desires for more of everything.

What modern middle class American child hasn’t begged their parents for yet another Lego set or American Girl doll? Our children learn the holy grail of consumerism (shopping + obtaining shiny new objects = fleeting taste of nirvana) from a very early age. We are all addicted in varying degrees to this consumerist pursuit of happiness.

It is up to the artists—male and female—to point out the absurd and sinister in our society and our world.  Their art is our mirror.  Artists help us see the truth behind our collective, nonstop madness: of sex, war, religion, consumerism, power, food, corporations, the government…you name it.

It is society that is subversive, not the artists.

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