PST: 'Doin' It' at Otis

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There is a lot of "herstory" in the Otis exhibition with provocative title Doin' it in Public.

It is a frankly political show chronicling the estimable history of the Woman's Building, one of the first institutions to prioritize the creation and exhibition of art made by women. The Otis gallery is literally papered with newspaper articles, photographs, posters, manifestos, magazines and banners. Even more of this material can be found in a pair of catalogs compiled by curators Meg Linton, director of the gallery and Sue Maberry, the long-time librarian at Otis where the Woman's Building archives are held.

Much is simply the search for what might constitute art made by women. A vitrine at the entrance to the show includes an enlarged pink rubber vulva and penis, testament to the role of sexual relations during the early years of the Feminist movement.




The show is not very interesting to look at but it is quite exciting to read. There are two immediate and not necessarily contrary impressions: anger and elation. The anger of women recognizing the extent of their exclusion from galleries and museums and elation as they come to terms with rectifying the situation.




Judy Chicago, Close Up, a Photo from the First Feminist Studio Brochure (1973)

Photographer Unknown; Offset Printing
Part of the Woman's Building Image Archive at Otis College of Art and Design
© The Woman's Building


What was the Woman's Building? It evolved out of the ideas of artist Judy Chicago and her recognition in 1970 that there was no vocabulary or support for art that expressed women's experience or preferences. She taught these then radical ideas at Fresno State College. In 1971, she joined her friend Miriam Schapiro in establishing the Feminist Art Program at the newly formed California Institute of the Arts, which led to the creation of Womanhouse, an installation staged in an empty house with fried eggs as breasts mounted on the wall of the kitchen and hundreds of phallic red lipsticks in the bathroom. It was so sensational that it captured the attention of the national media.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Poster for Women in Design Conference (1975)
Diazo print Approximately 11 x 17 in
Part of the Woman's Building Image Archive at Otis College of Art and Design

© Sheila Levrant de Bretteville


The success, of sorts, led to the opening of Womanspace, an alternative gallery housed in an empty laundromat on Venice Boulevard. By that time, Chicago and others had encountered great resistance from the faculty and administration at Cal Arts. Chicago left and formed the Feminist Studio Workshop with art historian Arlene Raven and graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville. They rented the former Chouinard Art Institute building across from MacArthur Park and transformed it into a place where women could show their art, take classes, participate in consciousness raising, video, graphic design, writing or performance art, as well as active involvement in the larger struggle for equal rights. The emphasis was often collaborative, an idea at odds with the then common notion of white male genius alone in his studio. They reached out to lesbians and women of color. By the time the Woman's Building closed in 1991, contemporary art by women was a commonplace at museums and galleries.

I would argue that any woman working as an artist today has benefitted from the tremendous struggle and shift in awareness that took place in the 1970s. After visiting the show at Otis, I went around to a few galleries in the Culver City area and saw plenty of evidence. Bold, irreverent, incisive work by three generations of women, a fact that was not possible in 1970. We've come a long way baby. Here are a few of exhibitions I would recommend.

Carole Caroompas, Uncle Lenny: Right as Wrong/Wrong as Right
at Western Project, 2762 S La Cienega Blvd, through November 12

Brenna Youngblood, The Mathematics of Individual Achievement
at Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 S La Cienega Blvd, through December 17

Linda Stark, Adorned Paintings
at Angles Gallery, 2754 S La Cienega Blvd

Judie Bamber, Are You My Mother?
at Angles Gallery, 2754 S La Cienega Blvd, through December 23

Betye Saar, Red Time
at Roberts and Tilton Gallery, 5801 Washington Blvd, through December 17

Monique Prieto, Time Enough
at Acme Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd, through November 12

Doin' It In Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman's Building
at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design through January 28, 2012

Banner image: Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, First Woman's Building Brochure (1974) Offset printing 10 x 20 in Part of the Woman's Building Image Archive at Otis College of Art and Design © The Woman's Building