Archives of American Art Presents What is Feminist Art?

By the Archives
October 14, 2019
Revisiting 1977 Woman's Building Exhibition

“Archives are a weapon against being removed from history.” -artist Joan Semmel (2015)

The Archives of American Art is pleased to present What is Feminist Art? on view November 26, 2019, through November 2020.

Organized by Curator of Manuscripts Mary Savig, the exhibition revisits a 1977 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Woman’s Building, a feminist art school, gallery, and community space founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven in 1971. The Archives, which holds the Woman’s Building papers in its collections, will reconsider this exhibition by showing responses from the 1977 show alongside new submissions by both original participating artists as well as a new generation of diverse artists. Approximately 75 works will be on view.

The genesis for the original exhibition was a 1976 project by activists Ruth Iskin, Lucy Lippard, and Arlene Raven in which they issued pink postcards to hundreds of artists across the country with the following prompt: “If you consider yourself a feminist, would you respond by using one 8 1/2” x 11” page to share your ideas on what feminist art is or could be.” At the time, the term “feminism” was new to the art world and Iskin, Lippard, and Raven hoped to stimulate discussion. They received more than 200 responses in the form of collage, poetry, photographs, prints, drawings, and manifestos. These responses were exhibited the following year in the original “What is Feminist Art?” exhibition at the Woman’s Building. All of the responses were preserved in the Woman’s Building records, which were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1991 and have recently been digitized and made available on the Archives’ website.

In keeping with the spirit of the original exhibition, the Archives of American Art asked contemporary artists to respond to the same question, in the same 8 ½” x 11” format. These present-day responses, shown in the context of the responses of 40 years ago, will bring a renewed nuance and urgency to the ongoing discussion of feminist art.

Curator of Manuscripts Mary Savig has formed an advisory committee of leaders in education and curatorial work to help highlight prominent Asian American, African American, Indigenous, Latinx, LBGTQ and non- binary artists whose creative practices engage with issues of feminism, gender, and sexuality, ensuring the exhibition takes an all-embracing approach to the question at hand. The committee includes Nao Bustamante, Alexandra Chang, Jaclyn Roessel, and Legacy Russell. As Archives of American Art Director Kate Haw describes, “We hope to encourage viewers to expand conversations surrounding feminism and feminist art in America by presenting both contemporary and historic responses to the question, ‘What is feminist art?’ This exhibition is the first time the Archives has commissioned new material on this scale, putting it in conversation with historical material. We are excited to see what kind of dialogue will emerge from these juxtapositions.”

Part of the Smithsonian’s larger American Women’s History Initiative, the exhibition at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery will help tell the story of the feminist art movement through firsthand accounts. Building on the responses of women artists in the 1970s, which challenged the very definition of art in the patriarchal and discriminatory art world, new submissions highlight the ongoing effort to define feminism and equality.

Participating Artists

  • adrienne maree brown (2019)
  • Amber McCrary (2019)
  • Ana Mendieta (1976)
  • Anäis Duplan (2019)
  • Anita Steckel (1976)
  • Ann Chernow (1976, 2019)
  • Annette Bird (1976)
  • Annette Hunt (1976)
  • Annysa Ng (2019)
  • Arlette Jassel (1976, 2019)
  • Athena Tacha (1976)
  • Audrey Flack (1976, 2019)
  • Carole Frances Lung (2019)
  • Cynthia Tom (2019)
  • E. Jane (2019)
  • Eiko Fan (2019)
  • Ellen Lanyon (1976)
  • Every Ocean Hughes (2019)
  • Faith Wilding (1976, 2019)
  • Ginny Huo (2019)
  • Grace Graupe-Pillard (1976, 2019)
  • Hannah Wilke (1976)
  • Hanne Darboven (1976)
  • Harmony Hammond (1976, 2019)
  • Helène Aylon (1976, 2019)
  • Howardena Pindell (2019)
  • Jerri Allyn (1976, 2019)
  • Jesse Chun (2019)
  • Joan Semmel (1976)
  • Joan Snyder (1976, 2019)
  • Jodie Herrera (2019)
  • Joyce Kozloff (2019)
  • Judith Golden (1976)
  • Judy Chicago (1976, 2019)
  • June Wayne (1976)
  • Kristen Dorsey (2019)
  • Laura Kina (2019)
  • Linda Montano (2019)
  • Liz Whitney Quisgard (1976, 2019)
  • LJ Roberts (2019)
  • Maren Hassinger (2019)
  • Marla Allison (2019)
  • Martha Lesser (1976)
  • Martha Rosler (1976, 2019)
  • Martha Wilson (2019)
  • Mary Beth Edelson (1976)
  • Mary Temple (2019)
  • Maya Mackrandilal (2019)
  • Mercedes Dorame (2019)
  • Mimi Smith (2019)
  • Mother Art (1976)
  • Nancy Graves (1976)
  • Nancy Spero (1976)
  • Nanibah Chacon (2019)
  • Nina Kuo (2019)
  • Nora Naranjo-Morse (2019)
  • Patricia Olson (2019)
  • Rachel Rosenthal (1976)
  • Regina Bogat (1976, 2019)
  • Rita Mae Brown (1976)
  • Rosemarie Castoro (1976)
  • Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (1976, 2019)
  • Siri Berg (1976, 2019)
  • Susan Michod (1976, 2019)
  • Sylvia Sleigh (1976)
  • Tanya Aguiñiga (2019)
  • Terry Wolverton (1976, 2019)
  • Tina Takemoto (2019)
  • Ursula Meyer (1976)
  • Xandra Ibarra (2019)
  • Yong Soon Min (2019)

About the Curatorial Committee

  • Mary Savig, Curator of Manuscripts, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Nao Bustamante, Associate Professor and Vice Dean of Art, University of Southern California Roski School of Art and Design
  • Alexandra Chang, Curator of Special Projects, New York University Asian/Pacific/American Institute Jaclyn Roessel, Founder, Grownup Navajo
  • Legacy Russell, Associate Curator of Exhibitions, The Studio Museum in Harlem

What is Feminist Art?

Lawrence A Fleishman Gallery
The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture 8th and F Streets, NW (1st floor)
Washington, D.C. 20001

On view November 26, 2019–November 2020
Open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.


Follow us on Twitter