!Women Art Revolution (Zeitgeist, NR)

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war sqThere’s a fond belief still current in some circles that the art world is ruled by the principal of merit: If art is good, it will be successful, and if it’s not successful, it must not be any good. If you believe that, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying.

 Hershman WomanArtRev 2010

It’s one thing to say that the world isn’t fair (alert the media!), however, and quite another to look at exactly how that unfairness plays out in some specific corner of the world. The former, though it may make the speaker feel better, is easily dismissed by anyone not already in agreement, while the latter actually provides useful information that may be useful in bringing about change.

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary !Women Art Revolution belongs to the second camp. She traces the struggles of women artists fighting to be recognized by the mainstream art world, illustrated with archival footage (some of it shot in her own living room) and interviews with those who were there and know the real story firsthand. Judy Chicago is probably the best-known of the female artists interviewed (others include Martha Rosler, Carolee Schneemann, Faith Ringgold, and Howardena Pindell), but all of them are articulate and many are funny, as well. Leeson ties the women’s art movement into the general social upheavals of the 1960s, as well as the petering out of minimalism within the art world at about the same time.

!Women Art Revolution is a real trip down memory lane for people involved in the early feminist movement in the United States (the soundtrack alone will push your nostalgia button), and a great resource for teaching, particularly in art, U.S. history, and women’s studies programs. It has to be said that some of the art, particular that of the performance variety, seems kind of silly today, but that’s probably true of art from any period, especially art that challenges prevailing conventions. On the other hand, much of the art (and Leeson includes many photos of work by women artists from the 1960s to today) is strong stuff, and at least as good as a lot of what you see in galleries now. If this documentary does nothing more than make you question, the next time you’re in a museum or gallery, why the particular artists represented are there, and whose work might be missing, it’s done its job.

Extras on the DVD include interviews with comic artist Spain Rodriguez, philanthropist Elizabeth A. Sackler, and Hershman Leeson; a feature on the associated website rawwar.org; and two theatrical trailers. | Sarah Boslaugh

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