Radical women at the Hammer

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The women's movement of the late 1960s and 1970s generated an abundance of art exploring identity, sexuality and expression, especially in Southern California. So what was going on south of the border? Some answers are on view in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 at the Hammer Museum.

Though few of the artists are well-known north of the border, their work explored the same issues, though often produced in countries with more widespread political instability and oppressive regimes. Organized by guest curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta with Marcela Guerrero, the show is the first to examine this material in any depth and is partly sponsored by the Getty though their Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiative.

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Sonia Gutiérrez (Colombian, b. 1947), "Y con unos lazos me izaron"
(And they lifted me up with rope), 1977
Acrylic on canvas. 59 1/16 × 47 1/4 in.
Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia
Courtesy of the artist
Artwork © the artist

In organization, the exhibition is not dissimilar from Now Dig This: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, the show organized by the Hammer for the 2011 PST: an overview of work by African American artists that led to a upheaval of conventional understanding. Like that show, Radical Women frames a specific history.

Such scholarship and the related weighty catalogues represent some of the most crucial aspects of the Getty's PST. The program subsidizes time-consuming research and curatorial decisions that often go begging these days. The Hammer Museum, being connected to UCLA, is ideally situated for such an exhibition.

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Liliana Porter (Argentine, b. 1941), "Untitled" (self-portrait with square), 1973
Gelatin silver print. Image: 16 1/4 × 11 in. / sheet: 20 × 16 in.
Courtesy of the artist

Keep all of the above in mind when visiting the exhibition, which is freighted with the post-conceptual media of the times, grainy black and white videos and photographs. Be prepared as well for galleries lined with images of women graphically exploring their bodies and their selves. Breasts, bottoms, vulvas: corporality revealed is the very stuff of art from the women's movement. At that moment, there surged forth the idea that women were taking back the representation of their own bodies and presenting them as empowered rather than objectified. With the recent invention of the Sony Portapak, their performances were documented.

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Regina Silveira (Brazilian, b. 1939), "Biscoito arte" (Art cookie), 1976
C-prints (diptych). 29 ½ x 39 in., 39 x 39 in., 69 11/16 x 39 ¾ in overall
Collection of Fernanda Feitosa and Heitor Martins
Artwork © the artist

If some of those views seem sophomoric today, it is useful to keep in mind that the art represents the dawning of a new political awareness among women. Latin American (or Latina) cultural histories may have differed but the artists shared the condition of being women.

It is not a thrilling exhibition to see, frankly. There are 260 works by 100 artists from 15 countries, a few from the United States of Latin American heritage, but only a fraction is memorable as works of art.

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Feliza Bursztyn (Colombian, 1933–1982), "Cama" (Bed), 1974
Assemblage with stainless steel scrap, cot, satin sheet, and motor
43 5/16 × 70 7/8 × 29 9/16 in. 
Museo Nacional de Colombia
Artwork © the artist
Photo ©Museo Nacional de Colombia / Andrés Mauricio López

Walking through the show, it is a relief to come to the carved wooden sculpture by Marisol, an artist of Venezuelan parentage. Columbian Feliza Bursztyn's 1974 Cama is a sheet of red satin thrown over a mysterious, lumpy shape that mysteriously and erotically vibrates on a random schedule. Mexican Marta Palau's 1973 Llerda V is a substantial and suggestive woven hanging. Of the many videos, one of the best is Lygia Pape's O Ovo, 1967 a box on a beach into which people climb and emerge to re-experiencing the process of birth.

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Marta Palau (Mexican, b. Spain, 1934), "llerda V," 1973
Spanish jute, cotton. 63 × 39 3/8 × 7 7/8 in.
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM

Sex, birthing, child-raising, food preparation and consumption: These are the dominant themes. That awareness alone provides an important perspective on how far women have come in making art that transcends such essentialist sensibilities. Half a century has passed since the beginning of the women's movement. This show defines that history and illuminates that women's art everywhere has come a long way, baby. The show runs through December 31.