40 Years of Women Artists at Douglass Library
Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series 40th Anniversary Virtual Exhibit (1971-2011)
           


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VIRTUAL EXHIBIT

 

Introduction

by Judith K. Brodsky & Ferris Olin

Curators, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series
Directors, Rutgers Institute for Women and Art

Four decades is a milestone, one which we are sure Joan Snyder never anticipated when forty years ago she approached Daisy Shenholm, Director of the Douglass Library, about establishing a series of exhibitions of the work of women artists so that the Douglass College students would have women artists as role models and learn about the contributions of women artists to contemporary art.  Her goal was also to provide women artists with a venue in which to show their work. Since this kernel of an idea was first articulated, nearly 450 emerging and established contemporary artists have participated in solo and group shows in the Women Artists Series. The diversity of media and visual expression as well as the cultures represented by the artists has made it a nationally recognized and award-winning series and one that is now the longest continuous running venue for making visible the work of women artists in the United States. We are so pleased to be able to present their work to you in this virtual exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Series.

In the 1960s when Ferris was an undergraduate student studying art history at Douglass College, which was at that time the largest woman's college in the United States, the Visual Arts Department had no women in tenure track positions and not a single woman artist was ever shown in the college's gallery. The art history curriculum focused on Western, white male artists and the only mention of women's involvement in the visual arts, as she remembers, was either as muses for the artists or as collectors who commissioned works to be created. This is not surprising given that the major survey books did not include women artists until 1975. It was also in 1975 that the first full time woman art professor was hired at Douglass College. Much later because of the actions of feminist women in the arts, the text books became more inclusive.

Both of us have been actively involved with the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series (as it came to be known) from the time each of us joined the Rutgers faculty, Ferris in 1976 and Judy in 1978. We served on the Series' jury to select exhibiting artists, on its advisory board, and often were called upon to interview the artists at public programs when they visited campus. Ferris was its curator from 1994 through 2005, succeeding others who coordinated the series, the first being Lynn Miller (see History of the Series for more information). When we were appointed by President McCormick to direct the new Institute for Women and Art in 2006, the Series became part of the Institute's portfolio and we have served as its curators ever since.

At the time of its 25th anniversary in 1996, Ferris, who was curator at the time, was asked if there was still a need for the Series, especially given the development of Women's Studies as a discipline and because of the great strides achieved by women artists. At that time, she answered that the art world still discriminated against women in the visual arts. The number of women visible in the art market, with gallery representation, featured within art journals, and in senior level positions within academia, art schools, and museums remained lower than it should have been despite progress in hiring within art and art history departments. Discrimination was particularly apparent in the art market and in the hiring of senior positions in museums and other visual arts institutions.In 2012, we can report that the statistics are a bit better.

There is now a National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC), the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum (New York, NY), and in fall 2012, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts will inaugurate its new women artists' initiative when it opens an exhibit of work by women artists from the Lee Alter Collection. In the past several years, major museums have mounted blockbuster exhibitions on the history of feminist art, highlighting the aesthetic and intellectual contributions of women artists to contemporary art, including WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; PS 1/Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada), Global Feminisms (Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY), and Elles (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France). 

To maintain the momentum of interest in feminist art, we established, at Rutgers, The Feminist Art Project (TFAP), as another program of Institute for Women and the Art.  TFAP now boasts more than 1,500 exhibitions, classes, publications, and lectures through 2015 around the globe posted on its website. We curated a group show of pioneering feminist artists, How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, 1970-1975, that inaugurated TFAP. Sadly, many of the major works by these women remain in their personal collections and have not yet been acquired by museums. TFAP also organizes an annual day of feminist art sessions at the annual conferences of the College Art Association, TFAP@CAA. Each year, the attendance grows and each year we see audience members of all ages and ethnicities joining more than 1,500 others throughout the day. The excitement and interest in women artists remain strong since the beginning of the American Women's Movement in Art in the 1970s.

Does there still need to be a single sex exhibition series, such as the Dana Women Artists Series? We resoundingly say "yes." At the 2011 New York premier of Lynn Hershman's documentary, WAR! Women, Art Revolution, the majority of audience members, all under 40 and predominantly female, spent the question and answer period remarking that they did not know the history of the feminist art movement until attending the screening.  They felt as if they were creating art in a vacuum only to discover that they are working in a tradition of art making  established forty years ago by a previous generation of women.

The Dana Women Artists Series has a long history of informing the Rutgers University community and the world about the extraordinary creative work being done by women visual artists. Women artists who have shown in the Series have commented on the impact that their exhibitions at Douglass Library have had on their careers. Yes, the Series does fulfill a need and will continue.

We are thrilled to have been part of this forty year history and thank the many individuals, departments, and organizations that have supported the series. Those include President McCormick and his predecessors; the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College; the deans of Douglass College; Professor Joel Lebowitz and the Estelle Lebowitz Memorial Fund; Isabel Nazario, Associate Vice-President for Academic and Public Partnerships in the Arts & Humanities; the librarians and staff of the Rutgers University Libraries; the faculty at numerous academic departments, and last but most importantly, the many artists with whom we have worked. In addition, we want to express our gratitude to the many student workers, too numerous to be named, who have assisted us in mounting the Series and whom we have mentored, many of whom went onto careers in the visual arts. Lastly, it is with heartfelt appreciation that we acknowledge the dedicated staff of the IWA; Connie Tell, Acting Director and Feminist Art Project Manager; the organizers of this virtual exhibition- Nicole Ianuzelli, Manager of Programs and Exhibits; Leigh-Ayna Passamano, Project Assistant; and 2011-2012 student assistants Tamiyah Yancey and Rubab Hassan.


PRESS RELEASE (PDF)

 

If you are an artist who has exhibited with the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series and would like to submit information for the virtual exhibit, please contact us at womenart@rci.rutgers.edu