Cultural Rebels: Feminist Art appreciation at Independent Fair

Eleonore Antin, The Eight Temptations, 1972, courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery


Independent Fair until May 14

Susan Inglett Gallery 

Kasmin Gallery

Richard Saltoun Gallery

Fridman Gallery

By COCO DOLLE May 2023

In the last decade, women’s visibility in contemporary arts has made incredible progress thanks to fourth wave generation feminist artists and art professionals determined to squash toxic patriarchy. Elevating other women and instating diversity were priorities. Not only women have supported each other reclaiming history by rewriting it - as seen in Katy Hessel’s book The Story of Art Without Men and Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russel, they have also taken major leadership roles at prominent museums from the Louvre to Tate or the Brooklyn Museum, read the recent NYT article. Nonetheless, polls reported by the Washington Post, show that feminism has a bad rap.

Understandably following the giant leap provided by technology, a new generation of young adults seem to be doubtful of further feminist agendas. They appear to be consumed with trending futurist themes, market positioning and strategic UGC, i.e. user-generated content. Raised empowered with an embedded concept of freedom and a sense of sovereignty from the use of digital platforms, the new generation of Americans seem to have forgotten how women’s activist engagements helped cross heavy limitations in the artworld and in society at large. That gallery representation for female artists and WOC was just made possible through decades of hard work by rebellious spirits standing against systemic abuse, defamation and silence.

Hence, I was pleased to see galleries at Independent that made a point to focus on feminist art from now and then.


Linda Benglis, Artforum T-Shirt, 1974, courtesy of Susan Inglett Gallery

Susan Inglett Gallery & Specific Object presented a booth titled An Assault on American Prudery with works by three female artists expanding from pornography media imagery: Yayoi Kusama, Beverly Semmes and Linda Benglis. In the early 70s, Yayoi Kusama embarked on a bold marketing strategy inserting her naked performance happenings to porn publications. She appeared in the centerfold of ‘Playboylike’ tabloids, the first issue of Screw Magazine and Bachelor. In 1969, she opened a boutique on 6th avenue in New York, selling transgressive orgy fashion, nude homosexual and lesbian dresses. A body painting studio was made available where you could rent nude models by the half hour. Continuously drawing eyeballs, the series of magazine spreads and nude photography relate Yayoi’s infamous trajectory that led her to today’s massive worldwide collaboration with fashion brand Louis Vuitton.

Opposite hung Linda Benglis’ self-portrait with dildo t-shirts that she had made in 1974 to finance the advertising placement for her solo show in Artforum. Known for her large fabric dresses featured at the Denver Art Museum, Beverly Semmes doodled with ink on porn magazines pages working genuinely on the meaning of censorship. 


Judith Bernstein, Female, 1995-2019, courtesy of Kasmin Gallery

Fridman Gallery presented pencil drawings and a video piece by Ukrainian artist Dana Kavelina that she is currently displaying at MOMA. Highlighting sexual violence on women as a weapon of war, Dana’s works speaks to current aggressive military attacks and Putin’s relentless war against her country.

Judith Bernstain’s large charcoal drawings Angry Bitches took over Kasmin’s booth. A direct application of text-based conceptual art, this series brings meaning and power to the words Justice, Liberty, Evil, Equality and Female. Created during the period 1995-2009, Judith’s word drawings are a direct expression of her raw essence and a political style she nurtured since her graduate years at Yale.

Finally, long standing feminist London gallerist Richard Saltoun focused on Eleonore Antin’s photographic social studies The Eight Temptations, showing the transformation of her body losing weight. While this series seemingly protests against pertaining perceptions of how a woman should look, it also points to mental health issues. Though the recent advent of body positivity movement and gender-inclusive language have definitely helped raise social constructs in fashion, entertainment and popular media, patriarchy and its consecutive male gaze are still very much a brutal reality for women in most parts of the world.

 Dana Kavelina, Military Holiday Exposition, 2019, courtesy of Fridman Gallery


 Beverly Semmes, In the grass in Blue (with Orange), 2021, courtesy of Susan Inglett Gallery

 Independent Art Fair outdoor signage, Spring Studios, image by Coco Dolle

Yayoi Kusama, "Central Park Event,” in Screw: The Sex Review Vol. 1, 1968, courtesy of Specific Object/ David Platzker

When Iranian women are being arrested daily for not wearing hijabs or when American women have been stripped away from basic rights to govern their own bodies by the Supreme Court, I ought to ask the question: how has Feminism turned into a bad word again?

There is still an order in society where men are the norm, pertaining to their ancestral authority. In the workplace, there are still men commanding over women, very few are willing to credit or highlight women’s efforts at equal levels. As a matter of fact, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has never been ratified. Men still expect women to behave properly. Surely following the #metoo movement, former president Trump is finally guilty of sexual abuse and defamation thirty years later to the facts, but that doesn’t mean this is victory for all. Understanding violence and gender diversities from the lens of the LGBTQ+ movement, is a work in progress on all counts and in most parts of the world.

We do not need to forget that mothers and children are mistreated by vile men in power in third world countries. Feminism might have seen its glory in privileged societies and hit backlashes but it doesn’t mean it's obsolete. Women need to keep voicing their political relevance to raise the bar for those who have less. There are plenty of battles to fight before feminism is over. How about we keep empowering women to help power the world altogether?

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of inspiring quotes. These are still relevant today: “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Jean Little’s “A man can work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done”, Karl Marx’s “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce”, or George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Happy Mother’s Day. WM


Coco Dolle

Coco Dolle is a French-American artist, writer, and independent curator based in New York since the late 90s. Former dancer and fashion muse for acclaimed artists including Alex Katz, her performances appeared in Vogue and The NY Times. Over the past decade, she has organized numerous exhibitions acclaimed in high-end publications including Forbes, ArtNet, VICE, and W Magazine. She is a contributing writer for L’Officiel Art and Whitehot Magazine. As an artist, her work focuses on body politics and feminist issues as seen at the Oregon Contemporary (OR) and Mary Ryan Gallery (NYC).


Follow her on instagram.

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