Ruth Horak
In: Eikon #90, 2015

"How does it feel tobe a sex object?" could be written over
the entrance wall in big letters, and with burst ink balloons above that,
previously whipped by Lydia Schouten. But Gabriele Schor's approach
is different. Fora good ten years she has been heading the art collec:tion
of the Verbund and has worked out a program that is now available
in concentrated form: feminist avant-garde. Tue title may look very
bold-but why should women always be low-key? By thrusting forward
in this way Schor is pointing out a gap in art history. Focusing on female
artists, who have been challenging the domination of men in the art
industry since the l 960s, as weil as on the function of wo man as motif
and muse, the exhibition and catalog are more museum-like and serious
in their approach.
The main theme ofthe rebellion is rep resented by 150 works by
34 women artists: mistrust of the socially determined roles of women
(Birgit Jürgenssen, Karin Mack, Martha Wilson), suspicion of the beauty
and flawlessness that have been imposed on women as attributes (Ewa
Partum), the sexualized, commercialized, aging body. I am reminded
immediately ofNina Hagen's words: "Why should I per form my duty as
a woman? Forwhom? For them? Foryou? For myself? l've no desire to
perform myduty!" 1
Self-reflection, a subversive interpretation of the norm, and working
with and on one's own body emerge as methods. Many ofthe mainly
performance displays were for an art public, some for unsuspec:ting passersby,
but most were for the camera, because in self-portrait the artist can
personally control the representation and consequently the act of seeing.
lt conveys an unfiltered impression of one's own Situation and identity. ln
the l 970s photography was largely unencumbered as an arti~tic medium -· and due lo the option ofthe elf-timer it wa al o a tool that guaranleed
freedom from lhe gaze of others. ·nie arti t shows t1 • her elf al the
moment o(the work, as he wants tobe scen. l.n her personal pre ence
couragc and hyne s can ofren be feit at the same time. The fomalc body,
for so long a motif of maleart hi tory, now becomcs s metbing quite
diOerenl, namely something used authenti ally an 1 as a battlefield, where
expectalions and restriction · are done away with.
Not in every case can thc radical quality, which seems constrained
from today's point of view, be fully conveyed. ßut th art public of that time,
which was nol very familiar with such drastic actio11 art, descrves tobe
takcn into account: a glan e at the rows of viewers in Renate ßertlmann's
Sd11va11gerc ßra11l /111 /fo/1111/r/ (Pregnant Woman in Wheelchair) lets one sec
how disturbing the aclion mu t have been. 1hc audience seems Lo bave
coped better with nudity. Howevcr, the unclothcd femaJe body is usually
employed by your;g artist , who need not be ashamed of their bodies.1he
few exceptions- Hann. h Wilke confronts her once-immaculate body
with degencration- prove thc rule. And a single sexualized male body,
the responsibility fLili Dujow'ie, interrupts the contlm1ity of the subject.
'füe fominist movement of the l 970s is now fur away. A,mong today's
young women there i an unconcerned attitude, lrnt Schoulen warn ·
againsl it: "A longas women try to pleas men, thc image thcy have of
lhemselves is not their own image but one determined by men."2 IL i all thc
more cmiching to have the world oCthe 1970 dcscribcd by the female
arti t themselves, in 01·dcr to understand how the palriarchal world ordcr
\ • takcn for granted and what the tabo -brcaking performances might
have feit like. •

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