By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, OCT. 2016
“I had a simple idea,” writes LA-based artist Kim Schoenstadt, for “a gathering and photograph of female and female-identifying contemporary artists. This event was...an opportunity for us to capture a moment where we stood with each other in all of our diversity.”
Now Be Here happened August 28th at Hauser Wirth + Schimmel in Los Angeles, whose architecturally epic location -- and even more to the point, whose then-current exhibition Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016 examining the underappreciated role of female innovators in 20th-century art history -- inspired the event. Some 733 women took their place in the sun-baked courtyard that morning, Carrie Yury and Isabel Avila and a few other photographers and journalists on the roof started snapping, and social media basically broke for three straight days, while a posting and commenting deluge of media coverage (see below), as well as personal pride and profound emotion, and just the smallest bit of random snark flooded everyone’s feed.
On Sunday October 23rd, the Brooklyn Museum hosts Now Be Here #2, similarly partly because of their amazing courtyard location, and mostly because of coinciding with the opening week of A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum. Organizers Shinique Smith and Schoenstadt are expecting around 1,000 artists. The big moment’s sequel will be documented with the help of photographer Paola Kudacki and a small army of check-in table volunteers. And everyone there will know what it feels like to literally be a part of history as it happens.
In so many ways, the New York City art world is a different kind of place, with a different civic and cultural history than Los Angeles. But the presence of pernicious and systemic gender imbalance in the marketplace, curatorial and editorial archives, and institutional canon transcends geography; and the resultant neglect of women’s contributions to the march of art history is a loss to all, and one that increasingly demands its remedies. Other methodological attempts to correct the record have had huge successes with protest-like operations (Gallery Tally, Guerrilla Girls, that one show with the missing names, and so many many more…). This is not that, at least it wasn’t conceived that way and it didn’t feel that way to be there. This was joyful. It was a huge success that both celebrated the accomplishments and persistence of generations of women artists both renowned and unknown; and it was also a touchstone for unpacking a further critique of the subtexts running through the idea.
After the fact -- that was when critiques of access, social media, personal ambition, and cross-valent issues of race, age, and the mechanisms by which official history are forged and by whom all started coming to the fore. There’s a danger of unwitting exclusion to any event like this, whereby whoever would not or could not be there would be at risk of exclusion from the official record, just because when people see an image of such a monumental assembly, there’s a tendency not to look further, a belief that one has seen, so to speak, the “full picture.” Of course there are more than 733 female artists living and working in LA in 2016. And the contemporary pictures-or-it-didn’t-happen mindset, absence could equal exclusion. Fair enough, though it’s quite unclear how 100% comprehensivity could ever be achieved in a single time and place. This was not ever about that, either -- although it was a demonstration of strength in numbers, a gesture of solidarity and community and diversity that is both a document of itself and an emblem of something much larger than itself.
In a subsequent discussion, the artist Alexandra Grant shared her observation that a preponderance of attendees were at least Gen X or older, with many, even most, artists in the 60s at least. The going theory was that younger women, those most fully immersed in the world of social media, have no problem feeling “seen.” They have a self-actualized path to getting themselves and their work “out there” and connecting with like-minded colleagues -- something that simply was not readily available to individuals two or three generations ago. So for women of a certain age, this event was profoundly at a literal and symbolic level, about being seen. Then again, for those of us steeped in photography-based existences, being in the picture would be of utmost importance for the same reason, because of an understanding of how these things perpetuate.
With a salient and empathetic anticipation for how these and other vagaries of schedule and other demands might depress attendance, in the weeks leading up to the event the organizers launched a public Facebook group called Now Be Here Research Archive which also serves as a more broadly conceived historical repository, accumulating other such community portraits, especially of female artists, and serving as an update forum for the progress of the original photograph and subsequent related events and ongoing discussion threads. In a very real sense, these milestones are only the beginning. Now Be Here #1 and #2 are but the first of what will hopefully become dozens if not hundreds of such documents, sparking not only a more complete art history but engendering a permanent shift in consciousness when it comes to gender equality in the art world and beyond.
Kim Schoenstadt and team will soon be complete the arduous task of tagging everyone in the LA image; watch the project website for the release of the official historical and fully captioned version. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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