The Way It Was

There’s a scene from a performance in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary !Women Art Revolution in which two women, one representing feminist art and the other minimalism, dance in a ring and duke it out, pounding home the inequality inherent in the art world of forty years ago. In a way, it also encapsulates the lessons of !W.A.R., which tells the story of feminist artists of another, less welcoming time for women in art history — when Judy Chicago’s notorious “Dinner Party” installation, an ode to creative women, provoked congressional debate over whether or not it was pornographic, and another artist was forced by a gallery owner to show her portfolio kneeling on the floor.

Forty years in the making, Hershman Leeson’s doc remembers when women were summarily ignored in major exhibitions and by galleries; the film travels slowly through the years with some of its interviewees, who appear at various times in their careers, both looking forward and looking back. It’s also a story that any contemporary female artist might still learn from, though the ideological trend seems to be going a different way: These are strong, vocal, angry women who literally fought for the right to express themselves as they saw fit and be accepted. Hershman Leeson’s message? Don’t forsake them.

!Women Art Revolution opens today for a week’s run at the Denver FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Admission is $9.75; go to www.denverfilm.org or call 303-595-3456.
June 24-30, 2011

 
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