A discussion over tea and bundt cake

    S.S. Champlain, February 10, 2013

    "I'm going to start collecting 1970's Feminist Art," said collector Yvonne Force Villareal, according to The New York Times Style Section, December 2012. What might such a collection look like were it to head for the auction block in twenty-five years? Much of the great work of the 60s and 70s was performative (Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece", Faith Wilding's "Waiting") or was temporary (CalArts collective piece "Womanhouse", Ana Mendieta's "Silueta" series), but there was plenty of formalist painting and sculpture too, the kind of work that typically attracts investors.

    In tandem with the huge cultural shifts that began to take form in our society, the 1970s was an era rich with art historical importance. It was then that particularly consequential art by women was made, work that broke from traditional painting and sculpture to change the terms entirely for subsequent generations of both sexes.

    Last year New York Times critic Holland Cotter expressed the same sentiment, when he discussed his dream collection in his deadpan piece "If I had the Cash I Wouldn't Buy That". Regarding a bidding war that took place over Edward Munch's "The Scream," a single painting that sold at auction for a shocking $120 million, Cotter said if he could, he wouldn’t park such funds in one work of art; he fantasized of the multiple antiquities he could acquire: Indian Buddhist art, French illuminated manuscripts, and swaths of undervalued works by contemporary women artists he could snatch up "straight from studios and estates — no Sotheby’s commissions, thank you." Significantly, Cotter points to the realm of art that is seen to be a safe investment; auction reports back this up with so many dull, bankable winners purchased for exorbitant prices.


    Which brings me to Sotheby’s. It’s instructive to picture a hypothetical auction catalog of the future, using a real catalog as a starting point, to see what accolades blue-chip art receives. Take for example, an actual sale of Abstract Expressionist works displayed in rich color format with accompanying bios and heroic black and white photography of New York school artists (seven men, one woman). Trade language and images and you have "Eight Masterpieces of Feminist Art from a Distinguished American Collection".

    Let’s say Judy Chicago and Lynda Benglis replace Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock. Immediately the structure of the catalog reveals aspects of biased marketing salesmanship that depends upon inflated, superlative language that has never been associated with Chicago or Benglis. When Tobias Meyer sets the contextual stage for the 1970s era that this particular Abstract Expressionist collection was established, he mistakenly disregards Feminist Art as a movement, stating “by the time Sidney and Dorothy Kohl decided to form a collection of Abstract Expressionism, the paintings they set out to find were not more than 25 years old. It is as if a collector today was looking for the best of the 1990s. New York by 1970 had seen Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism but it also retained an acute consciousness of the heroes of the earlier years..."

    Following is a list of potential images to accompany such a Sotheby's catalog of the future:

    Judy Chicago's lifesaver paintings
    Faith Wilding's "Waiting" performance
    Lynda Benglis's pourings
    Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece" documentation
    Marth Rosler's collages
    Ana Mendieta's Silloueta series
    Eva Hesse's Post-Minimal sculptures
    Womanhouse ephemera
    Joan Snyder's paintings
    Louise Fishman's paintings
    Adrian Piper's performance documentation
    Valie Export's performance documentation
    Carolee Schneeman performance documentation