Despite my white skin and blue eyes, as a Jew I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my whiteness. This is true now more than ever. My people have suffered at the hands of xenophobes and bigots for as long as we’ve been around. My great-grandparents survived the pogroms of Europe only to arrive in the US and be told they’re not welcome here. They were denied jobs, housing and basic human decency. They were relegated in ghettos here to match the ones they left behind in Europe. They did not (and I still do not) enjoy many of the privileges that white Christian Americans have been afforded. But they stayed and here I am.
Last weekend, I went to 2 sex positive feminist art shows (a successful Saturday to day the least). Both shows concentrated on the reclamation of the female body, and also unapologetically focused on sex and all the different things that can mean, including styles of kink. What was most fascinating though was that despite all this they could not have been more different.
The first was actually a remounting of a show originally held at David Zwirner gallery in 1993, COMING TO POWER: 25 Years Of Sexually X-Plicit Art By Women at Maccarone gallery in the West Village. Maccarone gallery is tucked inside the first floor of an unassuming building on Greenwich St and looks like s typical gallery: large empty space with monochrome walls. The art was fantastic. Incredible pieces by vitally important artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Annie Sprinkle and Hannah Wilke (among other) who radically changed the landscape of visual art, not to mention fighting for a space for women within art. It was moving and informative.
The second was Fatter IRL: A Fat Art show, held (along with several other shows) in an actual former Pfizer factory in East Williamsburg. But for the helpful signs posted out front, you’d never guess the building would contain an art show. The art was displayed in side rooms beside genuine industrial machinery. All the artists were lesser known but still incredibly gifted. Here is the new face of both feminism and art in the age of social media.
The first difference I noticed is that, with few exception, nearly all of the artists in the Maccarone show were white and cisgendered and many were also straight while nearly all the artists at Pfizer were queer and/or POC. While it’s always been important to open up the art world for women, (something that’s still a struggle) it is also necessary to create an equal amount of space for folks who fall somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Not to mention the obvious need for LGBTQ and non-white voices. This show definitely had that.
Secondly, I stopped to consider how I came across these shows. While at the Air BnB where some friends of my parter had been staying while in the city from Europe, I happened across the most recent edition of TimeOut NY. I only saw the review of Coming to Power because I was flipping through the magazine. Meanwhile, I saw event notifications for Fatter IRL all over my Facebook wall and was intrigued enough to go.
It was symbolic, almost, that today was the last day for Coming to Power and simultaneously the opening night for Fatter IRL. It felt as if the door was closing on second wave feminism, while still celebrating those women for the great strides they’d made both in feminism as a whole and in the art world, and opening the door for this next generation of women and non-binary artists. I’m genuinely thrilled to have been able to see both in one day and experience the metaphorical passing of the torch. I hope to one day see a 25th anniversary retrospective of Fatter IRL, only to then attend the opening night party for whatever the next phase will be.