The Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) is pleased to present Women.Now., a group exhibition showcasing contemporary female artists based in Austria and the United States, curated by Sabine Fellner. This transmedial show unites artists from different generations, commenting on women’s role in society and the arts.
The exhibition pays homage to two major anniversaries. 2018 marks the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage in Austria. This movement allowed women to formally participate in political practices. Second, it remembers 1968, a year in which social norms defined by patriarchal structures were put under radical scrutiny as the feminist avant-garde was formed. In Women.Now., curator Sabine Fellner sheds light on the legacies of these monumental time periods and how they impact current artistic discourse . The contemporary art scene is still struggles with gender disparities, whether that be in the art market, museums, or exhibition venues.
A video by Margot Pilz sets the precedent for the show. In Herstory – 36 000 Years of Goddesses and Idols, Pilz explores art which traditional historical narratives belittle, encouraging the spectator to reflect on stories that tend to be invisible. Comparably, Béatrice Dreux endeavors to disengage notorious mythical goddesses and princesses from their paternalistic narration and have them speak for themselves. Pilz and Dreux thus map out a broad field of gender discrimination, more specific subsets of which other pieces in the exhibition examine in greater detail.
Artworks by Ellen Lesperance, Ines Doujak, and Uli Aigner focus on trades that are traditionally associated with women and the feminine, such as the textile industry or pottery, and endow with strong political commentary. While Doujak points attention to exploitive relations of economic power in the fast-paced fashion industry, Aigner and Lesperance reconcile the private and the political, enmeshing features of key (political) figures with typically feminine craftsmanship.
Sabine Jelinek and Eva Schlegel investigate the nature of freedom, in particular women’s claim to it, and expose the ambivalence of a notion that blurs the line between flying towards the sky and tumbling through the air. The extent of women’s freedom and the right to decide for themselves has also spurred a heated debate in the realm of sexuality and lust.
A large wall drawing by Sevda Chkoutova and a two-piece photograph by Heidi Harsieber testify to that debate, making clear-cut distinctions between lust, violence, rapture, and passion nearly impossible. For Chkoutova, the contemporary discourse of lust and sexuality is closely linked to perceptions of the body, particularly to conceptions of beauty. She shares this interest with a wide range of female artists, notably Claudia Schumann, Frenzi Rigling, and Adriana Czernin, whose works also display an interest in conformity and resistance, and Martha Wilson and Joan Semmel, who expand the debate to include ageing. These works are united in their attempt to understand why female identity is so closely linked to physical appearance. The diversity of the work approach various associations with womanhood and seem to testify to the claims made by Betty Tompkins and Maria Hahnenkamp, who argue that the concepts are cultural constructions shaped by language and visual media. In so doing, these works resonate with key tenets of feminist theory, to which Hahnenkamp refers explicitly in her video. The works in the exhibition thus give an idea of the multi-faceted, ever ambiguous, perennially indefinite nature of what constitutes “the feminine” and the role of present day women.