#ENOUGH at the Neutra
Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum, Los Angeles
Closed October 27
Written by Betty Ann Brown
The Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) was founded in 1972 in conjunction with the College Art Association, the professional assembly of artists, art historians, and museum professionals. The WCA has grown to become a national organization with chapters in more than twenty states. Its mission is to create community through art, education, and social activism. Our local chapter–the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art (SCWCA)–serves as a vital support network for women artists. Members curate and jury exhibitions, coordinate workshops and conferences, set up crit groups, and host social gatherings.
Their current project, #ENOUGH, is a large exhibition housed at the Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum, which is run by Dulce Stein. #ENOUGH surveys artists’ responses to the divisive issues of our current political and cultural environment. Participating artists include: Patti Akesson, Jennifer Bentson, Lucy Blake-Elahi, Marie Cenkner, Cathy Engel-Marder, Suzanne Edmonson, Marta Feinstein, Bruria Finkel, SCWCA Director Dellis Frank, Dwora Fried, Ellen Fryer, Gail Gilkmann, Carole Goldman, SCWCA President Shelley Heffler, Susan Hannon, Ann Isolde, Linda Kunik, Susan Kurland, Beanie Kaman, Susan Karhroody, Ava Letterman, SCWCA Director Lynn Letterman, Lynda Levy, Sarah Liss, Stevie Love, Penny McElroy, SCWCA Director Sandra Mueller, Linda Roletti, Kuniko Ruch, Seda Saar, Cathy Salser, SCWCA Secretary/Treasurer Karen Schifman, Bonnie J. Smith, Susan Spector, Nancy Spiller, Sarah Stone, Vivian Wenhuey-Chen, and Judy Zimbert. The group includes an impressive age range–including a ten-year-old girl (Ava Letterman) and a woman in her eighties–as well as women with diverse race, gender, and class affiliations.
Entering the gallery, the first piece presented to viewers is Bonnie J. Smith’s “We Are All Rosies!”, a 30″ x 20″ fabric piece that uses hand-dyed and recycled fabrics to create a quilt-like take on Norman Rockwell’s famed cover for the May 29, 1943 Saturday Evening Post magazine. Rockwell intended the image to represent the female factory workers during World War II. In the seven intervening decades, it has come to represent feminist power on more general terms. In this #MeToo era, we need to affirm women’s agency in all possible ways. Transforming the painted image into a historically female-identified medium “stitches” the archetypal figure into a graphically powerful icon.
Ann Isolde’s “TIF SIGFRID’S GALLERY” painting is also based on an historical precedent: Linda Nochlin’s 1972 photograph that juxtaposes a nineteenth century pornographic image of a nude woman holding apples below her breasts with a contemporary image of a nude man holding bananas in front of his genitals. The female image is labeled “Achetez des Pommes” (“Buy Some Apples” in French), the male with “Buy Some Bananas,” in order to make a point about the objectification of human bodies along gender lines. Isolde’s painting is part of Micol Hebron’s Gallery Tally Project, a tabulation of the number of male vs. female artists represented by various commercial galleries.
In contrast to the historic roots of the two previously discussed pieces, Dwora Fried’s “Not My President” is all too current. Fried creates miniature tableaux in small (8″ x 12″ x 3.5″) wooden boxes using found and fabricated objects. In this one, a naked girl doll standing in front of what is for her a wall-sized photograph of the scandal-ridden president. Her hair touseled and her pained gaze directed downward She is imprisoned by a white picket fence, her hands painfully crimped by two tiny clothespins. A black rat patrols the fence; a diminutive plastic Jesus stands to the side, helpless and dismayed.
Pam Douglas’s “Grandma Tried to Dry Our Clothes” is an equally topical mixed media piece addressing the travesties of our immigration policies. A linen “sail” is balanced above a wooden raft, with two figures drawn on it: a grandmother kneeling over some ragged clothes and a small standing child who grabs a rope (make-shift rigging?) as if to navigate through rough waters. Their beautifully drawn faces are sad, lonely, despondent.
Their pained expressions are echoed in Karen Schifman’s “Enough!”, a collage multiplying a nineteenth century image of a woman nineteen times. She wears a black dress and holds her hands to her ears to mute all sound. The insistent repetition recalls the often-numbing effects of obscene tweets, increasingly disgraceful corruption, egregious lies…and how so many of us wish fervently to silence them.
Douglas’s immigrants might be crossing the tumultuous sea, swirling into a hollow sinkhole, that is beautifully painted in Susan Karhoody’s “A Hidden Secret, Violence”. No doubt Douglas’s immigrants suffer because of our politicians, especially the huge rodent seen in Kuniko Ruch’s “Kingdom of D.C.” A large rat scurries across the text of our Constitution. He snarls insidiously, wearing a golden crown and a long red tie. The infamous words “a very stable genius” are limned in blood red across his bulbous gut, and the epithet “LIES” labels his sharply clawed paw. The edge of the Constitution is shredded.
The seven artworks discussed above comprise less than twenty per cent of the works in the show. Hopefully, they will be enough to encourage readers to visit this remarkably varied and always powerful exhibition. And further, that they will inspire others to consider joining and supporting the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art.