Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 3: "Do women have to be naked to get into the [MoMA]?"

Sophisti-femme Judy
In honor of our class's fieldtrip to the MoMA, I decided to dress like a NYC curator from the movies--you know, sophisticated (fitted but not too showy sleeveless top, heeled sandals), a little austere (black slacks, glasses), with a little flair (i.e. my lemon slice earrings). I call her my Sophisti-femme Judy.

The only subway exchange I had was as I was about to enter the subway, a homeless man in his 40s or so said, "Good morning." I said, "Good morning" and to my back he said "Have a good day, beautiful." Looking around the subway, I made eye contact with some men, but it felt neutral. The vast majority of the women were engrossed in something else or looking down--it was difficult to make eye contact with any women. But interestingly, the only person to look me up and down was a woman in her 30s. She didn't smile or grimace. Nothing of any substance happened on the subway ride home.

(It might be worth mentioning that last night, dressed in a similar degree of femme-ness in Brooklyn, I headed to the subway around 11pm. At the door to the subway entrance, a man in his 30s who had already gone through the door jumped back through to hold the door for me awkwardly. A few minutes later, an apparently drunk man in his 20s yelled "Looking good!" at me and stopped walking to stare harshly at me as I walked by him. Ugh.)

But back to Wednesday. We started off class with a structured 40-minute debate: "Are gender and sex difference studies harmful or helpful?" With opening arguments, rebuttals and closing statements, the whole hog! The students--who were arbitrarily assigned a side last class--passionately battled each other, citing evidence from the readings and trying to synthesize the lessons of the past few days. Then as the adrenaline subsided, we headed to the MoMA for our fieldtrip, to look at particular pieces of art and analyze what their gendered and psychology implications were.

The students were assigned to focus on two areas: the "Designing Modern Women: 1890-1990" exhibition, particularly the war posters, and to observe Frida Kahlo's "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair" (1940). If they had time, they could also look around the contemporary floor.

Guerrilla Girls, 1989
For me, one of the MoMA standouts were the Guerrilla Girls's pieces in the "Designing Modern Women" exhibition, including their famous, fabulous piece calling out the Metropolitan Museum of Art (right). The fine print reads, "Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Section are women, but 85% of the nudes are female." The Guerrilla Girls headed back to the Met in 2004 (below right), and their resulting piece shows that not only has there been no real change, it's actually gotten somewhat worse.

Guerrilla Girls, revisiting the Met, 2004
And this stat could just as easily be about the MoMA itself...walking through the 1880-1940 painting galleries (at least 100 paintings) to get to the Frida Kahlo works, I did not see any women's names. Yes, perhaps there were one or two that I missed but the message you still get is that there were no "worthy" women artists between 1880-1940. And before anyone starts to write a "but there weren't any worthy women artists at that time" or a "men are just better artists" comment at the end of this blog, read this ("female artists airbrushed from history) and this ("Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers and Artists of Color) and this ("Women Artists in 19th Century France) and this (on the National Museum of Women in the Arts). Merci.

Frida Kahlo, "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair"
The other standout was the small but powerful Frida Kahlo portrait. The song lyrics in Spanish at the top are loosely translated (by one of the students in my class) as: "I loved you with long hair, but now that you're bald, I don't love you anymore." I love Kahlo's expression, daring you to challenge her decision to chop off her hair a month after her divorce from Diego Rivera. This act is still radical today (i.e. Jennifer Lawrence's 2013 short haircut was deemed "controversial" and I won't link to the awful articles that declare her no longer sexually attractive and proceed to lecture women on how dare we ever not look hyper-feminine for men's consumption). And I can't image Kahlo had any contemporaries in 1940 sporting it. I love her posture, her single earring, the creases in her pants. 'Go ahead, sing that song at me,' she seems to say, 'I couldn't care less.'

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Check out the Day 1 post here
Check out the Day 2 post here
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And for funsies, here are some other great recent Guerrilla Girls pieces (2009 and 2007, respectively):



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