Review

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art

03.05.2020 |

Lee Lozano, Private Notes, 1969, © Photo: Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung, © Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL! Eleanor Antin, Lee Lozano, Adrian Piper, Mierle Laderman Ukeles at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Dusseldorf honours four American conceptual artists through the archives of German gallerists Dorothee and Konrad Fischer.1 Celebrating these artists today is a way of fighting for the institutional recognition of female artists.

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!2 reveals the desire of Susanne Gaensheimer (director of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen since 2017) to promote female artists through organising events dedicated to them. Although female artists remain largely under-represented in the collection, the public programming addresses the decades of discriminatory acquisition policies.

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Exhibition view: I’M NOT A NICE GIRL! Eleanor Antin, Lee Lozano, Adrian Piper, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 18 January – 28 June 2020, © Photo: Achim Kukulies, © Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung

The exhibition juxtaposes a corpus of pertinent works with previously unseen documents that reveal contacts between the influential gallerist K. Fischer and conceptual artists, as well as Lucy R. Lippard,3 highlighting the dominant relationships at the heart of the artistic scenes in Europe and the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beyond resonating with the current fight for equality, the feminist positioning of curator Isabelle Malz challenges art history. The exhibition design, realised in collaboration with artist Katrin Mayer (born 1974), also takes a feminist perspective by favouring an artistic and referenced arrangement of the archives and works.

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Eleanor Antin, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, 1972, 148 silver gelatin prints and text, 17.8 x 12.7 cm each, Art Institute of Chicago, Courtesy Eleanor Antin and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York, © Photo: Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung, © Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980, citywide performance with 8,500 Sanitation workers across all fifty-nine New York City Sanitation districts, 15 May 1980, Sweep 10, Queens 14, © Photo: Vincent Russo, Courtesy Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York, © Mierle Laderman Ukeles, © Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Adrian Piper, Catalysis IV, 1970, performance documentation, five silver gelatin print photographs, 40.6 x 40.6 cm each, Generali Foundation, Vienna, © Photo: Rosemary Mayer, © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin and Generali Foundation, © Kunstsammlung NRW Auflösung

The exhibition is spread across four rooms, each dedicated to a single artist. In the room housing the archives, the work of Lee Lozano (1930-1999), including her Private Books (1968-1972), some of her Language Pieces (1969) and a painting (No Title, 1970), illustrates the exhibition’s goal, which is, “the question why these important pioneering women Conceptual artists, with their highly relevent works are not present (to the same extent as their male counterparts) in our collections and exhibitions to date”.4 The exhibition continues in the spaces of the K21’s Bel Etage – the rooms dedicated to contemporary art at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen – in which the works of Eleanor Antin (born 1935), Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939) and Adrian Piper (born 1948) are assembled. Here there are mainly films, photographs of performances, as well as a number of writings and books documenting the controversies and fights from the period. Since the late 1960s these politically engaged artists have dealt with socio-political issues, such as the fight against gender inequality, racial discrimination, identity and representation, institutional critique, as well as womanhood.

By invoking a feminist discourse, this audacious retrospective succeeds in revealing the structural mechanisms that led to the devaluing of female artists, and thus proposes re-evaluating curatorial practices and canonical discourses in art history from a contemporary perspective.

 

I’M NOT A NICE GIRL! Eleanor Antin, Lee Lozano, Adrian Piper, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, from 18 January to 28 June 2020 at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany).

Translated from French by Katia Porro.

1
As explained by the curator I. Malz in the exhibition catalogue, the archives of D. and K. Fischer, acquired by the Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen in 2014, at the “the point of departure for the presentation”. This is because they reveal that although K. Fischer supported certain female artists, he nevertheless excluded them from his gallery and exhibitions: “Although Fischer contributed substantially to the establishment of Conceptual art as a movement, these women played virtually no role in his exhibition program.” Isabelle Malz ed., I’M NOT A NICE GIRL! Eleanor Antin, Lee Lozano, Adrian Piper, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, exh. cat., Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfale, Düsseldorf (18 January – 28 June 2020), Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2020.

2
The title of the exhibition is borrowed from an exchange between L. Lozano and the German curator Kasper König, a close friend of K. Fischer who lived in New York. The artist recounts the conversation, which she thinks dates to 1965, in the second of her twelve personal journals. K. König told her, “You are a good painter and a nice girl!”, to which she replied, “Wrong on both counts. I’m a very good painter and not a nice girl!” The title evokes both the androcracy and radicality of L. Lozano, known for her boycotting of feminism and women in the art world. Lee Lozano, Private Book 2, 16 May 1969, The Estate of Lee Lozano, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

3
In 1973 the art critic and historian of activist art L. R. Lippard organised c. 7,500, the first group exhibition exclusively dedicated to conceptual artists. Amongst the 26 women presented were E. Antin, A. Piper and M. Laderman Ukeles. L. R. Lippard valued works created by women and fought against an artistic milieu dominated by men. Evoking this event in the exhibition sheds light on the debates that divided the New York art scene in the 1970s. I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!

4
Discussion with the curator, 20 March 2020.

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How to cite this article:
Léa Pagnier, "I’M NOT A NICE GIRL!: An Unequivocal Homage to the Female Pioneers of Conceptual Art." In Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions magazine, . URL : https://awarewomenartists.com/en/magazine/im-not-a-nice-girl-hommage-manifeste-aux-pionnieres-de-lart-conceptuel/. Accessed 25 November 2020

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