The Women, Part 2: The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women at Cheim & Read

The Women: Part 1: "Daughters . . ." at Pavel Zoubok

If I exhaled at Daughters of the Revolution, I was positively breathless at The Female Gaze, so welcome was it to see so much work by women in just two shows in Chelsea at the same time.
The curatorial conceit at Cheim & Read is to counter the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which "the artist and subject do not relate as 'voyeur' and 'object' but as woman and woman.' " In this beautifully curated show, which spans over a century, 40 female artists--many from their own roster--turn the conventional male gaze inside out. Here there's pleasure in equality versus the longstanding idea of power over passivity.

What you see when you enter, above: a small cut-paper work by Kara Walker, Untitled, 1995 (foreground, under the exhibition title); and Deborah Kass, Double Red Barbara (The Jewish Jackie Series), 1993. The two photographic portraits below are also in this room

Starting chronologically with the sad and shadowed visage of May Prinsep and the confrontational stare of a very butch Mme. Theodore Van Rysselberghe, the exhibition delivers a range of expression and emotion. The bodies are strong and beautiful, or fleshy and imperfect. The sex comes in several different flavors and positions. There's mystery, eroticism, humor, pain. In short, life. The installation delivers these from every angle.

Left: Berenice Abbott, Mme. Theodore Van Rysselberghe, 1926-30, vintage gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches; right: Julia Margaret Cameron, May Prinsep (Head of Saint John), 1866, albumen print, 13 x 10 1/2 inches. Both images from the gallery website

Back in the foyer: another view of Kara Walker's silhouette and, over the desk, Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009, rhinestone, acrylic and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 inches (each); full view below. Both images from the gallery website

The three images below are what you see when you enter the main gallery. The vitrine with a Louise Bourgeois sculpture will orient you as we turn counterclockwise around the room. You can see these and all the works on the gallery's checklist. (These three images are mine; the gallery has many more.)

Sex, sex and sex: Louise Bourgeois, Couple, 2004, fabric and stainless steel, 11 x 28 x 14 1/2 inche, in the vitrine; behind that, Joan Semmel, Flip-Flop, 1971, oil on canvas, 68 x 138 inches .To the right: Lisa Yuskavage (hate it)

Below: Bourgeois's Couple

Above: Bourgeois, Shirin Neshat, Sarah Lucas, Jenny Holzer, Maria Lassnig

Below: Kathe Burkhart, Bourgeois, Marilyn Minter, Katy Grannan, Lucas

In the smaller back gallery, from left: Hannah van Bart, Vanessa Beecroft, Lynda Benglis, Tracey Emin. Image from the gallery website

Below: Capture from Lynda Benglis, Female Sensibility, 1973, video tape loop

With the video to your back, here's another view of the same back gallery: Victoria Civera, Judith Eisler, Beecroft, Ghada Amer. Image from the gallery website

Below: Vanessa Beecroft, Blonde Figure Lying, 2008, water resin coated with beeswax, human hair, 77 x 36 x 10 inches [when I saw this work in Miami it was not as yellow as it appears here; maybe it's an edition and this is a different work?]

Ghada Amer, The Woman Who Failed To Be Shehrazade, 2008, acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 62 x 68 inches

With Beecroft and Amer in the distance, we have now entered a third gallery looking at work by Ellen Gallagher, Hellen van Meene, and a large nude by—surprise—a young Joan Mitchell. Who knew this master of the lyrical mass painted such forthright figures early in her career? Image from the gallery website

Above: Gallagher, van Meene, Mitchell. Image from the gallery website

Below: Ellen Gallagher, Bouffant Pride, 2003, handmade collage, cutout, painting and photogravure on rag paper, 13.5 x 10.5 inches

Moving around the gallery we see a painting by Alice Neel similar in size to the Mitchell. Between them are photographs by Zoe Leonard (also below) and Catherine Opie.

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), Untitled, circa 1945, oil on canvas, 54 x 35.75 inches; Alice Neel, (1990-1894), Olivia, 1975, oil on canvas, 54 x 34 inches.
Image from the gallery website

From the third gallery looking back into the main space, with the Bourgeois vitrine to orient you. On the wall: Zoe Leonard, Untitled, 1988-90, gelatin silver prints, 6 x 9 inches each

The Female Gaze , is up through September 19 at Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th. Go gaze.

If you can't make it to New York between now and then, the gallery website contains great installation shots, some of which I pulled and posted here (with attribution) and an image of every work in the show. My blog buddy Steven Alexander has written about the show, too.

Update 8.19. 09: James Kalm's video report on You Tube



S.A. said...

Hi Joanne,

As always - a great post on this great show -- you really convey the scope of the show. It's an interesting premise that probably warrants a major thesis by some ambitious and thoughtful grad student. While it may not be true of every piece, I think the most successful works in the show would indeed convey different meaning if done by a man -- and it's the success of this show that it compels us to put each piece to that test.

Leiflet said...

..wow. So pretty!

i know that's not an intelligent comment, but it needs to be said.

Joanne Mattera said...

Good to hear from you. Actually, I should have referred to you as my buddy, period, as we are also friends in real life.

To add to your comment, which I agree with, it's likely that many of these pieces would not have been made by men. I'm thinking, for instance, of the works by Deborah Kass (well, unless Andy did it); Mickalene Thomas (the figure is a lovely slice of life, not fetishized); Louise Bourgeois and Ghada Amer (how many men are doing sex in fabric?).

There are, of course, many male artists who do conventional portraits of women with absolutely no fetishization or objectivization, but typically we're not seeing that work in galleries and museum.

jen dalton said...

Hi Joanne, I'm a fan (longtime listener, first-time caller, etc.) For what it is, this is an impressive show, but I can't really see it as a positive step for women artists, overall. Women-on-women exhibitions always make me uncomfortable. They are a way for the art world to have it both ways: I'll give you ladies your own show (in august, even) if you promise to depict everyone's favorite subject-yourselves! If the gallery wanted to "debunk" anything (their word, from the press release), it would not be following the long tradition of exhibiting a gallery-full of images of mostly anonymous women, many lacking clothes.

I agree that the fact that the works are made by women is significant, but my feeling is that that fact (and possible subtle-yet-important differences in depiction that I confess I have trouble discerning) can't cut through the louder message sent by the visuals. Show us our tits?

There is some really good work by really amazing artists in this show. But could the women artists not be "gazing" at something else? A show that features women "gazing" at men--or for god's sake, anything else!--would be much more interesting to me.

Thanks for the forum, & all your great blogging!

Joanne Mattera said...


Thanks for commenting. I am a fan of your work, and in fact, I'd like to do an interview with you for the blog one day soon. (How's that for hitting you up while you're captive?) You are certainly on top of issues that relate to sexism.

I hear your concerns. If the gallery were one that rarely showed women, I would feel differently. But Cheim and Reid have an impressive roster of artists who are women: Benglis, Bourgeois, Fishman, Holzer, Prieto, Steir, the estates of Arbus, Mitchell and Neel, and a few others; and shows by those artists appear regularly through the year. True, the roster is about 2/3 men, but I do give C&R their props as they regularly mount great shows by the women on their roster, and not just in August. Their big-gun girls are always represented at the big art fairs, too. Actually, I thought this was theme for a summer show.

But you know what? I love that we can be having this discussion. We couldn't if this had been a post about MoMA or the Met.

Anonymous said...

Compliments on the Bourgeois piece. That's not necessarily how I see things as a man, yet I can't help but feel like some kind of a brutish domineering ogre when I look at the piece.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to have this response, but it certainly makes me reconsider my "maleness" as I'm sure it makes a women consider her own gendered viewpoint.

A very interesting show, it certainly presents more questions than answers.


jen dalton said...

Yes, I really did not intend to criticize cheim & read in general. 1/3 women is an impressive percentage at a blue-chip gallery (and, for that matter, a percentage that many "emerging" galleries don't seem to even aspire to). And gender aside, they show really great work period.

But this show in particular gets my goat because it was billed by the gallery as "reclaiming the traditional domination of the male gaze", which feels like quite a stretch given what's on offer for gazing at. And the fact that this show was mentioned frequently as a condolence prize by posters on Jerry Saltz's women/moma facebook thread illustrates one of the problems with occasional high-profile all-women shows: that they can appear to excuse lack of representation elsewhere.

And thanks for your very diplomatic "on top of issues that relate to sexism". I know I have a very large chip on my shoulder, but I try to make sure it matches my shoes and handbag!

And sure, I'd love to be interviewed by you!


Joanne Mattera said...


So let's talk in September. I look forward to it.

Re the all-women shows: In general, I don't disagree with you. I just happened to like this one. (And Wack at PS 1last year, because it was a crucial historial show.)

Re the chip: Hold onto it. It's an energy source. Political statements don't get fueled by complacency. The trick is to place the chip somewhere else so that it doesn't weigh you down. (Even if it does match the ensemble.)

jen dalton said...

I totally agree with you on Wack - such an amazing and important show, I loved it and was really energized by it. The difference, I think: it attempted to document a bona fide art movement of artists who had more in common than gender.

Ian MacLeod said...