Sunday, June 7, 2009

Classically Competing Images of Women

With the opening of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s three new exhibitions focusing on women we have an opportunity to see how women are viewed and presented throughout art’s last century and the competing perspectives of female and male artists. The much discussed issues including the male gaze and voyeurism surround the Garry Winogrand Women are Beautiful. Similarly, the discussion of the challenges posed to women artists during the turn of the last century that seemed result in their relegation to domestic settings of the feminine present Bessie Potter Vonnoh as Mary Cassatt’s sculptural American counterpart (without mentioning Mary Cassatt).

While these are valued topics important in engaging American art in the last century, the museum’s third exhibition fails to grab the opportunity to offer something new to the discussion. Virgins to Vixens: Picturing American Women, 1881-1930 as the title suggests parades the same dichotomy.

Currently there are discussions about the presentation of American art as new galleries devoted to this subject are opening in museums throughout the country. Not only what to hang in the gallery is at issue, but what new questions to ask and new themes to engage in our changing America are needed exercises. One art critic, Tyler Green, begins this discussion here.

For now and in Cincinnati, perhaps the best place to engage in a new discussion about images and roles of women in America is the more specific Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America currently on view at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Or we can go to France.