The art world, as Brooklyn Museum curator Catherine J. Morris notes, is a world within itself. Throughout art history, museums have mostly exhibited works made by men, leaving out the artistic expression of not only identifying women, but also LGBTQIA+ artists and other minorities in Western society.
Morris is the senior curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Brooklyn Museum is one of few museums in the country with an entire section solely dedicated to feminist art according to Liz Dragan, Co-President of the Art History Association (AHA) at SUNY New Paltz.
The AHA has been hosting annual lectures for over two decades now, with this year’s theme being feminist art to promote intersectionality in museums and art spaces in general.
Morris’s experience and dedication to inclusivity and intersectionality peaked Dragan’s interest, which prompted her to bring Morris for a guest lecture on Sept. 28 at the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. Students and professors alike could see art advancements made by women or those who have been historically overlooked in institutions such as museums.
“People think of museums and the art world as a very elitist space for only a handful of people,” Dragan said. “But it’s really universal and I think representing all different kinds of artists is important in sharing that message. Exhibiting artists that are not just upper class white men is influential.”
Within the first five minutes of her lecture, Morris pointed out that “it is not [her] job to make anyone a feminist, but to show the ways in which if you’re alive in 2017 and you’re looking at visual culture, you’ve been impacted by feminism.”
For Morris and Dragan, feminist art is not simply about art made by women or work created by artists that they deem as feminist, rather it is art that displays one of the most pivotal political, social, economic and cultural movements of the 20th century that continues to evolve, as it further recognizes the issues and needs of a variety of peoples.
Critically interpreting art this way is seeing feminist art through a lens; a perspective “of looking at art thinking about where minorities on all levels stand within that piece of work,” Dragan said.
During the lecture, Morris highlighted the many exhibits of the Sackler Center for Feminist art such as Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, “a ceremonial banquet arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history.” The white tile floor below the table has an additional 999 names of women inscribed in gold. The epic work serves as the core piece of the center for rewriting women back into the history they have been taught, explained Morris.
As a senior curator, Morris works to not only exhibit the women who have places on the table, but also artists that have been cast aside for years due to the lack of accessibility for those with disabilities, people of color and women.
Judith Scott, for example, was an artist born with down syndrome, as well as being largely deaf and not speaking. Prior to the Brooklyn Museum’s Bound and Unbound, Scott never had a solo exhibition and never considered herself as feminist. It was, however, due to feminist and disability movements that allowed Scott’s entry into the art world.
Scott worked obsessively with her art that was made from yarn, thread, fabric and other found items that were not in purview of the fine arts or shown in museums. Scott’s ability to make abstract sculptures out of these materials made valid the use of found objects and the like.
Morris has curated works by women who did not consider themselves as feminist such as Georgia O’Keeffe, who denounced the title of a “woman artist,” wanting only to be the best in her field without the label of her gender. This could be interpreted in many ways and while O’Keeffe rejected feminism, there is no denying that she paved the way for women artists.
To conclude, Morris spoke on the Sackler’s latest exhibition; We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women. She explained that although second wave feminism is usually seen as a protest by white women, there were many women of color who discussed the numerous needs in their own communities, a situation still prominent today.
To curators and historians such as Morris and Dragan, it is crucial to not only view feminist art as work only by women or artwork clearly depicting women’s issues.
“Feminism has no gender, race or ethnicity,” Morris said. “It is an awareness, an attempt for equality and redefines the social construction of what gender means.Who hasn’t been included in the stories that you have been told and how do we include them?”