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Women.Now, installation view, Austrian Cultural Forum, New York, NY (2018)

Joan Semmel included in the group exhibition Women.Now curated by Sabine Fellner at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, NY.

Press Release

The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is pleased to present Women. Now, a group exhibition showcasing contemporary female artists based in Austria and the United States. This transmedial show unites artists from different generations, commenting on women’s role in society and the arts.

The exhibition pays homage to major anniversaries: In 1918 and 1920 women in Austria and in the U.S., respectively, were given the right to vote, a milestone in political equality. Second, it recalls 1968, a year in which social norms defined by patriarchal structures were put under radical scrutiny as the feminist avant-garde was formed. In Women.Now, curator Sabine Fellner sheds light on the legacies of these historic developments and how they impact current artistic discourse.

A video by Margot Pilz sets the precedent for the show. Her short film explores female figures which traditional historical narratives belittle, encouraging the spectator to reflect on stories that tend not to be told. Comparably, Béatrice Dreux attempts to disengage notorious mythical goddesses and priestesses from their paternalistic narration and have them speak for themselves. Pilz and Dreux thus map out a broad field of gender discrimination, more specific subsets of which other pieces in the exhibition examine in greater detail.

Artworks by Ellen Lesperance, Ines Doujak, and Uli Aigner focus on trades that are traditionally associated with women and the feminine, such as the textile industry or pottery, and endow them with strong political commentary. While Doujak calls attention to exploitive relations of economic power in the fast-paced fashion industry, Aigner and Lesperance reconcile the private and the political, enmeshing features of key (political) figures with typically feminine craftsmanship.

Sabine Jelinek and Eva Schlegel investigate the nature of freedom, in particular women’s claim to it, and expose the ambivalence of a notion that blurs the line between flying towards the sky and tumbling through the air.

The extent of women’s freedom and the right to decide for themselves has also spurred a heated debate in the realm of sexuality and lust. A large site-specific wall drawing by Sevda Chkoutova and a two-piece photograph by Heidi Harsieber testify to that debate, making clear-cut distinctions between lust, violence, rapture, and passion nearly impossible. For Chkoutova, the contemporary discourse of lust and sexuality is closely linked to perceptions of the body, particularly to conceptions of beauty. She shares this interest with a wide range of female artists, notably Claudia Schumann, Frenzi Rigling, Titanilla Eisenhart, and Adriana Czernin, whose works also display an interest in conformity and resistance, and Martha Wilson and Joan Semmel, who expand the debate to include ageing. These works are united in their attempt to understand why female identity is so closely linked to physical appearance.

The diversity the artists display in addressing womanhood seems to confirm the claims made by Betty Tompkins and Maria Hahnenkamp, who argue that these concepts are cultural constructions shaped by language and visual media. In so doing, these works resonate with key tenets of feminist theory, to which Hahnenkamp refers explicitly in her video. The works in the exhibition thus give an idea of the multi-faceted, ever ambiguous nature of what constitutes “the feminine” and the role of women today.

In the U.S., this past year has seen feminism’s grand resurgence, in politics, the art world and Hollywood alike. Female artists’ presence in shows at galleries and museums, in the media, and in the art market has risen significantly. As to Austria, in 2019 for the first time ever a female artist, Renate Bertlmann, will represent Austria at the Biennale di Venezia with a solo show – another milestone. Renate Bertlmann’s significant work was already on display at the ACFNY during the show Selftimer Stories in 2015.

Let us be clear: a lot remains to be done – and more precisely for young contemporary artists, as late fame stories can hardly redress a lost life of professional recognition and financial acknowledgment. The exhibit Women.Now is meant to be yet another contribution towards correcting the mainstream and bringing about even more milestones in a near future.

Women.Now
September 25, 2018 – February 18, 2019
Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022