Veiling the American Female Artist

“The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artist Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991” (referred to as “Deconstructive Impulse” for the purpose of this review) is on view at Nueberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, from January 15th until April 3rd, 2011. The exhibition has been funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C., and also by the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art. “Deconstructive Impulsive,” has been coined by Craig Owens in his 1983 essay “The Discourse of Others: Feminist and Postmodernism.” This information is printed in the book that accompanies the exhibition. One learns a great deal of interesting information from reading the Front Matter or Forward and Acknowledgments of books.

Unfortunately this writer has decided to not access the remarkable collection of works on display because she feels an obligation to comment on the curatorial intention of the exhibition, which the exhibition’s book outlines with a number of essays.

In general, “Deconstructive Impulse” addresses the issue of hegemony in the history of art and analyzes the paradoxical view of Postmodernist Art and Deconstructivism Feminist Art. The discourse of “Art” is comprised by a historical “movements.” These movements are associated with “isms” that attempt to convey a similar pattern of trends. Specifically, Deconstructivism has canonically been defined as a postmodern genre of art that has reappropriated mass media signifiers and common iconography to expose the fallacy of commodification’s foundation. During this period, many male artists have received acclaim and others even have become infamous, i.e., Andy Warhol, for reconstructing formal elements of aesthetics. The creators of “Deconstructive Impulse” sincerely wish to recognize female artists who have contributed to this period of art, yet their primary goal remains unaccomplished due to simple semantics.

Many of the essayists challenge the reader to reexamine the origin of popular-culture history and reevaluate Feminist contribution to the deconstruction of visual culture during the 1970’s through the 1990’s. Unfortunately grouping the artists as “Feminists” further isolates their work; this seems to nearly patronize the artists’ roles. What may have been a revolutionary exhibition two decades ago actually appears stale or outdated, reinforcing what it hopes to eliminate. “Deconstructive Impulse” limits history to a “linear trajectory,” highlights certain institutions and denies the value of creations from individual artist.

More than one author has used the word “hindsight” in order to reveal that past art historians have neglected to include the importance of female artists in a time concentrating on gender roles and sexuality in society. Sadly, this exhibition intends to captivate an audience of the 21st Century. Today “hindsight” is a term as vapid as “Kitsch” to the mid-twenties to thirty generation. The current generation has been ingrained with the idea to think ahead not behind. The off-putting introduction only acts as an impediment. As imperative as the featured works are to the history of Deconstructivism, the importance drowns in a sea of platitudes and citations of critics, such as Roland Barthes, whose theories have been debunked years ago.

Rather than stating that discrimination “continues to plague both fields [mass media and powerful institutions of high culture],” “Deconstructive Impulse” should celebrate female artists and further explore their advancement in art and society.

To be candid, the exhibition nearly correlates with the “Western” traditionalist view of the hijab in Contemporary Iranian art. To the unfamiliar eye, a hijab may seem as though it were an imprisonment forced on the person beyond or underneath the cloth; a tool utilized to oppress those who are ruled by the laws of a more powerful sex, the man. The veil empowers a woman to choose who notices her by directing her gaze, controlling her body language, and manipulating the style. Beyond noticeable traits, the idea of the veil bestows her with an almost autonomous attribute. Dividing the individual from the world, the curtain grants her the ability to employ privacy in her favor. To further explain, it appears that “Deconstructive Impulse” does not expose an alternate view point of the female artists on exhibition.

Even as a retrospective, “Deconstructive Impulse” sustains the archaic stereotype it challenges. Diaspora exists not between two locations but between two distinct ideologies: the repression of American female artists and the immense effect of their art. Perhaps it is time to finally unveil the American female artist and allow her to gain recognition purely through artistic ability rather than first pointing out her extra X chromosome.

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About Megan M. Garwood

Megan M. Garwood is a New York City-based editor, art critic, commentator and aesthetician, as well as the Associate Director at Leslie Feely Gallery on 68th and Madison. Her guilty pleasures include metaethics, morality, conceptual art, and Coney Island side shows. Feel free to contact her via email at
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