Now Be Here: Women artists make a stand, and a photo
Written By Dani Dodge
History was made in Los Angeles on Sunday when 733 female artists gathered in the courtyard at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel to pose for a photograph. The joyous moment included generations of female artists who hugged and cheered while holding tight to the historic significance of the moment.
Conceived by Venice artist Kim Schoenstadt, “Now Be Here” was a show of solidarity of female and female-identifying artists in the L.A. contemporary art community.
“No such photo has been attempted before,” said Micol Hebron, an interdisciplinary artist whose work includes performance, installation, photography and video. “There is an amazing feminist momentum in the art world, and Kim’s project is a brilliant contribution to that. This project endeavors to acknowledge, name, and historicize women artists in L.A., and that’s important! … Women are systematically underrepresented, undervalued and under-recognized in ALL fields, not just the art world. Kim’s project provides a generous way to try to start to right the imbalance.”
Isabel Avila and Carrie Yury shot the photo. Schoenstadt organized “Now Be Here” along with Aandrea Stang, head of education, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The gathering also marked the closing week of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s internationally acclaimed all-female inaugural exhibition, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947 – 2016.”
Among the prominent artists present for the photo were Mary Kelly, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Catherine Opie and Barbara T. Smith. Each woman was given a number. The first photo was taken with each woman holding the number over her face. For the next photo, numbers went down and smiles appeared.
“Seeing all these remarkable women was inspiring,” said Carolyn Campbell, a fine art photographer. “That we all came out was a reaffirmation of our presence in the L.A. art scene and in the world. It was visceral. Powerful. And we had a helluva lot of fun doing it.”
Art writer, critic and curator Shana Nys Dambrot was originally at the event only to cover it. But she’s also a fine art photographer. And at the urging of Paul Schimmel, the former chief curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and a partner at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Dambrot grabbed number 700 and joined in the picture.
Looking around the crowded courtyard, she quipped, “This is every friend I have.”
“I love that everyone has a number like in a beauty pageant, but it’s like a beauty pageant where only the brain portion of it matters,” Dambrot laughed.
The photo was slated to be taken at 11:30 a.m. Many women got to Hauser Wirth & Schimmel before 10 a.m. to make sure they could find parking and get inside. Before 11 a.m. the women had packed the street in front of the gallery. They were invited into the huge outdoor hallway of the gallery, where they signed a photo release and took their number.
Women who arrived early, like Alanna Marcelletti, an artist who creates feminist-oriented sculptural paintings, were drafted to don a bright green T-shirt and be a volunteer at the event.
Marcelletti said she was glad to take part: “We are making history.”
The volunteers made sure the lines moved and women knew where the camera’s blind spots would be.
“It was very well organized and super pleasant. The volunteers were awesome!” noted artist Jennifer Celio. “I so rarely get to be part of something historic, so I felt that today was a good moment for that.”
After women were ushered into the courtyard, many women greeted long-lost friends and met new ones. It was an opportunity to be history, and to be together.
“This is my tribe,” said conceptual multidisciplinary artist Kristine Schomaker. “I have never felt so at home than among these women here today. While we still fight for equality, THIS moment, today, shows that we are making our voices heard.”
Last month, painter Aliza Bejarano was in Nice, France, and ran for her life from a terror attack that killed 86 people. That horror made the moment at “Now Be Here” even more poignant.
“This is way more important than I would have understood before,” Bejarano said. “This is your community. I think you take it for granted being in a male-dominated environment, but it’s more important to be surrounded by other women too.”
Schoenstadt said she will offer archival copies of the image to Southern California museums and to the National Archives of American Art. A Facebook group, Now Be Here – Research Archive, 2016, has been created to crowdsource the archive of group photos of artists.
For many, being part of L.A. and art history was heady.
“It’s a marking of a moment in L.A. art history,” said Jennifer Gunlock, who does drawing and collage. “I want to be represented among the women of the L.A. art scene at this time. This photo will be used for years and years and years.”
Painter Alison Woods noted: “I am hoping this symbolic gesture will help open doors to female artists and will help to break down the gender bias that keeps women out of museums and serious collections.”
Lili Bernard, a Los Angeles-based, Cuban-born interdisciplinary visual artist, said the moment was important also because it was part of the show that Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is staging about women artists, one that includes women of color. As a founder of BAILA (Black Artists in Los Angeles) and a member of the feminist group Association of Hysteric Curators, Bernard has worked to create platforms for underrepresented artists.
“There is a tremendous problem with artists of color and women being underrepresented, and what Hauser Wirth & Schimmel has done in staging this show of all women, including women of color, well, it’s pivotal,” Bernard said. “This photo is another historic moment in our history. I applaud Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel taking that step, because we are so underrepresented as women.”
Painter Gay Summer Rick also felt the location of the photo added an extra importance to the event.
“I’m here today because I’m a woman artist living in L.A. and want to be part of the recognition being given to women artists today, which is particularly important because Hauser Wirth & Schimmel has an important exhibition today of women artists,” she said.
Lavialle Campbell, an abstract quilter who also works in glass and ceramics, was one of the few women in the crowd who hadn’t seen Hauser Wirth & Schimmel exhibition. It gave her extra impetus to show up for the photo. “I’m killing two birds with one stone,” she laughed.
Like many of the artists, Campbell was invited to be part of the photo by an email from a friend. She RSVP’d, and showed up. The event got bigger, though, after stories ran on KPCC and in the Los Angeles Times the day before the photo was to be taken. Event organizers added a “No RSVP” line for those who spontaneously took part.
Linda Vallejo is an artist working on a series titled “make ‘em all Mexican,” for which she buys antiques and paints them brown.
“The reason an event like this is so important, the joy of it, the uplifting nature of it helps you as you trudge through the difficult times trying to find support, trying to find a market, trying to find legacy, trying to get through to find a place in history,” Vallejo said. “This brings a lot of encouragement for everyone present.”
Kim Abeles, who focuses on environmental and social justice art, attended the event with her mother, Fran “Schatzie” Hoffman, 96, who works in paint, raku and paper.
“At first I thought, ‘What a great idea to take a photo of a few artists,’ but as it got bigger I realized this is a testament to how many strong, creative females live not only in this city, but worldwide,” Abeles said.
She said it seems like a part of a trend.
“We’ve seen many females find their voices this year from the elections to the Olympics,” Abeles said. “I’m honored to be here.”
When her mom was asked about the importance of the moment, though, she didn’t talk about universal trends or the rise of women artists. Hoffman pointed out there was one very important event marking the day. “It’s Kim’s birthday!”
A rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” rang out through the halls of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel a few minutes later.
Painter Lisa Adams said the best outcomes from the event would be to show the broader art world that there are many, many women artists in Los Angeles and beyond.
“And what would be great is if Chicago did it, New York did it, Houston did it, and New Orleans did it,” Adams said. “I think it would be great if all the cities got together and did their own version of it.”
Later that day, Hebron said it’s already in the works: “My dear feminist friend Anthony Spinello is already planning the Miami version of “Now Be Here” for September 25th!”
The joy of the event, and its potential impact, seemed to lessen the difficulties for the many talented women, at least for a moment.
“Kim provided us with the opportunity for the community of women artists in L.A. to give each other a giant literal and figurative hug,” Hebron said. “I felt like I was coming to the best reunion – or the best party – ever! It was empowering and exhilarating to see so many women artists in one place.”
And, Hebron added, it could have ramifications for years to come.
“As Kim noted in one of her interviews, if anyone is looking for women artists to add to their gallery roster, or to include in their exhibition, there is now an archive of artists’ names that people can consult,” she said. “It’s no longer possible to say that it was too hard to find women artists or that they didn’t know where to look!”