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Pictured: Jessica-Jackson Hutchins, "Rocking Horse". Right: Leslie Brack's "Fireplace".

The Mood Back Home

Curated by Suzy Spence and Leslie Brack for MOMENTA ART, Brooklyn, February 22 - March 26, 2009
Sponsored by NYFA / The New York Foundation for the Arts

Reviewed by Sharon Butler in the Brooklyn Rail
Featuring Artists: Alyson Aliano, Pam Butler, Leslie Brack, Nicole Eisenman, Jessica Jackson-Hutchins, Karen Leo, Tara Mateik, Karyn Olivier, Bea Romeo, Suzy Spence, Kirsten Stoltmann, Jeanne Tremel, Pinar Yolacan. Film night with Mira Schor and Faith Wilding, A House is not a Home

The Mood Back Home developed from discussions between two artists/new mothers, Leslie Brack and Suzy Spence, about the landmark project Womanhouse, created in 1972 by a group of CalArts students and their professors. This project seemed to be an under-appreciated Guernica of domesticity and gender issues. It also held special appeal because it was the product of an era in which the two artists’ own mothers undertook a critical negotiation of motherhood, marriage, domestic work, and their careers. Reviewing documentation of the project, Brack and Spence found that the installations “Womb Room” (Faith Wilding), “Menstruation Bathroom” (Judy Chicago), and the all-pink “Kitchen” (Robin Weltsch), with their direct, challenging, feminist voices, still held relevance 37 years later.

Like Womanhouse, The Mood Back Home addressed the stubborn nature of gender prescribed domesticity and its effect on women artists. The exhibition highlighted Johanna Demetrekas’ documentary film, Womanhouse in the gallery – but otherwise focused on work of a new generation of women, the ostensible inheritors of 70’s era feminism as well of the Reagan-era backlash that followed.

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Kirsten Stoltmann contributed a collage titled Autonomous Wife made of Snoopy stickers and a rug defaced with the text, “Jealousy is a Bitch” in spray paint. Alyson Aliano’s photographic portraits of individual mothers at home with their children put a new spin on the often saccharine genre of mother and child. Nicole Eisenman’s watercolor portrayed a cheerful domestic scene in which breast milk is squirted into the cereal bowls of hungry children. Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ hobby horse encrusted with ceramic growths updated the original “Nursery” in Womanhouse.” Tara Mateik’s video of the performance Putting the Balls Away relived and commented on the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” which pitted tennis players Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs against each other in a rare moment of sports competition between genders. Jeanne Tremel’s sculptures disconnected the humble home practice of crochet from any practical use, unleashing a modest and rebellious exuberance. One of Karen Leo’s two videos, “Momma’s House,” had the artist dressed in a knitted Bruce Willis costume dancing with her mother to a John Denver sound track. Pinar Yolacan contributed portrait photographs of aging women whose elegant presentation is complicated by dresses adorned with meat and organ products. Suzy Spence’s Auctionhouse was a Duchampian box containing paper miniatures of Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer selling art works from the original Womanhouse to eager collectors. Leslie Brack’s paintings based on photo fragments from 1970s Life magazines projected a black humor that seemed uncannily congruous to our own time. During rare quiet moments between mothering responsibilities, Bea Romeo used delicate ink lines to render family members as featureless, floating heads of hair.

Womanhouse is remembered for its site-specific domestic installations in which artists responded to every room of the house. In this spirit, Karyn Olivier created a piece for the Momenta Art office while Pam Butler took over the bathroom with a plethora of imagery.

Johanna Demetrakas’ film, Womanhouse, a documentary of the installations, performances, and consciousness-raising sessions, played in the exhibition and screened at a film night on February 27. Mira Schor and Faith Wilding, two of the original participants, introduced that work and screen a little-seen PBS video, “A House if Not a Home” by Lynne Littman, KCET Los Angeles, originally aired February 1972.

The Mood Back Home An exhibition inspired by Womanhouse
Organized by Leslie Brack and Suzy Spence