Ulrike Rosenbach, Art is a criminal action No 4, 1969-70, black and white photomontage and felt pen on barite paper, 23.7 x 31 cm, © The SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection, © ADAGP, Paris
Since 2010, the Verbund collection has travelled to meet with the ever-changing audiences of a number of different European institutions. Each one undertakes its own selection among the 600 artworks by 48 women artists brought together by Gabriele Schor, director of the Verbund collection, which was founded in 2004 by the main Austrian electricity provider.1
Now, it is the turn of the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (ZKM) in Karlsruhe to present 400 artworks by 47 artists of its choice, thus affirming the curatorial orientation it has adopted since 2014, notably with the virtual exhibition Frauen Video Arbeiten (2015).
Annegret Soltau, Selbst [Self], 1975, black and white photographs on barite paper, each 38 x 28 cm, © The SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection, © ADAGP, Paris
Lorraine O’Grady, Untitled (Mlle Bourgeoise Noire shouts out her poem), 1980-83, gelatin silver print, 24.6 x 19 cm, © The SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection, © ADAGP, Paris
Francesca Woodman, Untitled, 1977-78, gelatin silver print on barite paper, 25.1 x 20.2 cm, © The SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection
Feministische Avantgarde der 1970er-Jahre aus der Sammlung Verbund, Wien [The Feminist Avant-Gardes of the 1970s in the Sammlung Verbund Collection, Vienna] supports the ambitions of Gabriele Schor who, “on the one hand, seeks to establish a connection between feminism and the avant-garde within the collective consciousness and, on the other hand […] to attract attention to previously unknown aesthetic positions and resituate them within the international context.”2 This is achieved by dividing the works into five sections covering the themes commonly broached by women artists during this emblematic decade on either side of the Atlantic.3 The first section, entitled “Mother, Housewife, and Wife”, puts into perspective the roles that define women socially and presents actions with a performative dimension from the outset, produced for the camera alone (or in front of a very small audience), by Martha Rosler, Letícia Parente, Annegret Soltau, and Ulrike Rosenbach. The second theme, “Locked Up/Escape”, brings into perspective the sense of enclosure felt by these artists and their attempts at liberation, mainly by way of photography. In the “Role Play” section, we find the first photographic series by Cindy Sherman (Bus Riders and Murder Mystery, 1976) and A Portfolio of Models (1974) by Martha Wilson, who anchors the reinvention of the self as a vital necessity.4 The fourth section, “The Body Beautiful”, provides an opportunity to question the role of women within the artistic canons developed by men, by presenting the subtle reappropriations of classical iconography by Francesca Woodman, and the strip-tease of Hannah Wilke behind Marcel Duchamp’s iconic Large Glass – without forgetting to claim a role for women artists within the classical pantheon, with Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper (1972) by Mary Beth Edelson. Finally, the last theme, “Female Sexuality”, underlines the difficulties female artists face when considering their own sexuality, independently of male expectations, in recurrent attempts to appropriate sexual organs of both sexes. In particular, we find in this section several provocative works by the young ORLAN and VALIE EXPORT.
Birgit Jurgenssen, Nest, 1979, black and white photograph, 29.1 x 40.1 cm, © The SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection, © ADAGP, Paris
Beyond the clarity ensured by its organisation into sections, the exhibition manages to identify a shared aesthetic in which the symbolic and physical violence (with Gina Pane) exerted over the female identity and body is represented by artists who do not hesitate to “difference the canon”,5 by fully and firmly rooting their art within their era.
Feministische Avantgarde der 1970er-Jahre aus der Sammlung Verbund, Wien, from 18 November 2017 to 8 April 2018, at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (Karlsruhe, Germany).