Women’s History Month: 31 days dedicated every year to the contributions and inventions of women around the world. While it may not always feel like things are going so well for the female gender, it's important to remember that women in art, music, and politics have started movements that resulted in real progress for human rights. The art world is notoriously male-centric and women are under-represented in museums, art shows, and galleries. A mere 11% of art acquisitions and only 14% of exhibitions at major US museums in the past decade have been for female artists (artnet News). The art market is no better, with 96.1% of auction sales being made by male artists (Bocart et al., Glass Ceilings in the Art Market).
In honor of Women's History Month, we are showcasing three of RoGallery’s fiercest female artists.
The Austrian-born artist came to New York City in 1961, where she became acquainted with some of the biggest names in pop art, including Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, and Andy Warhol. She was one of only a few women involved with the pop movement, thus the female experience became a large part of her colorful artwork. Art has long been used as a way to comment on current events. The space race was a major part of 1960's politics, and Kogelnik's earlier work explored ideas such as the space age and fascination with warfare through the inherently phallic imagery of bombs and rockets (Kiki Kogelnik Foundation).
In the 1970's, Kogelnik’s artwork focused more on the female form, taking the idea from advertising campaigns that featured women prominently. If anyone remembers what ads were like then, you may recall they were not always flattering towards women, often putting them down for the amusement of men. Kogelnik flipped the script and created depictions of women that stare directly at you from the picture, standing tall and defiantly in front of the viewer, uncaring of what the viewer might think.
These women are not in the background of a man’s world, but rather in the foreground of their own world, taking charge of how they are perceived by others. Kogelnik was a force in the art world during her lifetime and remains just as important now over two decades following her death. She showed us that it is possible to make women look powerful in art just as they are in real life.
Another prominent female artist is Chryssa Vardea-Marvromichali, born and raised in Athens, Greece, who made her mark on the art scene with creative mixed-media sculptures and the innovative use of neon in her work. She lived and worked in New York City for several decades, even establishing her own studio that stayed open until 1992 when she returned to Greece permanently. Chryssa drew inspiration from all around the city, especially Times Square, once saying, “I saw Times Square with its light and letters, and I realized it was as beautiful and difficult to do as Japanese calligraphy…” (Princenthal, page 81). This way of thinking allowed her to visually break down the lights and signs of the massive, tourist mecca that is Times Square, and create geometric prints she designated as “fragments.”
Chryssa’s neon and glass sculptures were by far her most interesting and groundbreaking work. In 1960 the FDA approved the first oral birth-control pill, a move that granted reproductive freedom to many American females. More women were able to obtain jobs and pursue higher education since family planning became possible. Chryssa’s sculpture titled PILL from the early 1970s focuses on the importance of this contraceptive by incorporating actual blister packs of birth-control pills with neon lights that spell out the days of the week. To this day, reproductive rights and freedoms remain a controversial topic among many Americans with no signs of slowing down. Female artists like Chryssa use their artwork to ask questions, challenge authority, and push back against the aspects of our patriarchal society they find unfair. As long as something controversial is occurring in our world, a female artist is creating artwork to protest it.
American artist Lynda Benglis has lived and worked in New York City since the 1960's and is best known for her “poured” sculptures and paintings. While she collaborated with and drew inspiration from many male artists, her works consistently told stories from the female perspective. Her early work, like the 1968 floor sculpture Fallen Painting, mimics the poured paint aesthetic of a Jackson Pollock, but was designed to call attention to "victim[s] of phallic male desire" through layers of latex rubber pigment. The artwork was intended to be on the floor, invoking "the depravity of the 'fallen' woman" (The Art Story). At around 30 feet long, it was designed to fill a large space, a feminist comment on how women are often encouraged to take up less room.
In the 1970s, Benglis began exploring other ways to address the question of female identity. One new medium that was growing in popularity was film, and she was "attracted by the newness of a medium that was uncorrupted by male artists" (Grove Art Online). She produced several videos during this time focused on self-representation and how the female identity related to art and pop culture. Benglis worked closely with artist Robert Morris to create a NSFW series of satirical ad campaigns in Artforum magazine as a way to confront gender stereotypes and the under-representation of women in the art world. The series provoked mixed responses when it was first released, and Artforum itself went so far as to say it was "exploitative" and "brutalizing" (The New Inquiry). Today, Benglis has taken her rightful place as a prominent female artist and critical player in the gender performance movement of contemporary art. Akin to Kogelnik, Chryssa, and other feminist artists working in this decade, Benglis wanted to show the world that art produced by women is significant and deserves to be told in the story of art history just as much as works by male artists.