By: Sarah Blumberg
Name one female Pop artist. Go on, just one. While men such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol easily come to mind as the epitome of the movement, possibly with Tom Wesselmann or James Rosenquist thrown in for good measure, women like Evelyne Axell, Vija Celmins and Idelle Weber are probably not very high on your mental list of notables, if any of their names register at all. “Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968,” now on display at the Brooklyn Museum, hopes to not only rectify this omission, but to expand the previously narrow definition of Pop art as well. This means allowing for a wide array of work – some of which, while clearly influenced by Pop art, is not entirely of it – produced by a surprisingly international group of artists, many of whom are only now receiving the recognition they so clearly deserve.
Marjorie Strider, Triptych II (Beach Girl), 1964. Acrylic on board, 72 x 52 in. (182.9 x 132.1 cm) each. Courtesy of Michael Chutko and WikiPop.
Because I entered “Seductive Subversion” from the back and worked my way forward, the first work that really gabbed my attention was Marjorie Strider’s 1963 Triptych II (Beach Girl), which features three bikini-clad women with three-dimensional breasts and slightly vacant, detached looks, striking pin-up style poses. A unashamed assessment of the one-dimensional sexuality that most Pop art ascribed to women, Strider’s work is a great example of what this show does best: critiquing through humor. Even the most blatantly hostile works in “Seductive Subversion” are notable for their use of wit as a form of satire. Martha Rosler’s photomontages are a great example of this. Originally distributed as Xeroxes at street protests and published in underground newspapers, these works attempt to capture the experience and expectations of being a woman during the late 60s and early 70s by pairing disparate images of domesticity and idyllic visions of suburbia with foreign warfare and pornography. While clearly created to shock, these works are appealing precisely because of this pointed use of tongue-in-cheek humor contrasted with topically relevant subject matter.
Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, 1963. Sewn stuffed fabric, cooking pot, lid, ladle and paint d.v. Dimensions variable. Private Collection, New York. Courtesy of Peter Freeman, Inc., New York and Art Tattler.
In addition to simply presenting a variety of female Pop artists working in almost every medium imaginable, a notable feat in itself, “Seductive Subversion” also does an excellent job of contextualizing both the works shown in this exhibition and the lives of the artists themselves. iPads located throughout the galleries make it possible to browse Wikipedia entries to learn more about the artists while also providing instructions on how visitors can access this same information using their own mobile device. Moreover, “Seductive Subversion” not only includes multiple examples of the artists’ work, but there are also quite a few displays of photographs, catalogues and other documents pertaining to their careers, adding to the wealth of information present in this show. I thought that one of the best examples of this is the way in which the work of Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who fits just as well into Surrealism as she does Pop art, is presented. Included in the exhibition are video installations, paintings and multiple examples of her stuffed “soft” sculptures, which feature phalluses propagating over household objects; just the one small area of the gallery displaying Kusama’s work is like a mini-exhibition in itself.
Martha Rosler, Vacuuming Pop Art, 1966–72. Photomontage, 24 x 20 in. (50.8 x 61 cm). Courtesy of the artist, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York and the Brooklyn Museum.
Much of “Seductive Subversion,” while an all-together enjoyable, coherent show, occasionally feels as though it is trying to toss as much information at the visitor as possible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since a lack of information is usually an issue in such a large exhibition, and the multiple forms of information do a great job of providing the visitor with the option of learning as much or as little about each artist as they want. And isn’t that really what a show like this, and what the Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, is all about? Many of the artists represented here were previously unrecognized contributors to the milieu. While they may not always provide the most iconic examples of Pop art, these women undoubtedly do deserve to be recognized for their contributions to what has mostly been represented as a male-dominated movement.
“Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968” at the Brooklyn Museum runs through January 9th
The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum
Hours: Wed, 11-6; Thurs-Fri, 11-10; Sat-Sun, 11-6
Exhibition Website: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/seductive_subversion/index.php