Pop quiz, hotshot: Can you name three female artists?
If you can’t immediately, there’s a good reason: Because for the near-entirety of our nation’s history, they’ve been denigrated, rather than displayed. It took a transformative, feminist movement known as Women Artists in Revolution birthed in the late 1960s to change that, and documentarian Lynn Hershman- Leeson chronicles every uphill step in “!Women Art Revolution,” playing Thursday through Sunday at Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
This “secret history” presents images and footage of some absolutely lovely and edgy works that went unseen, simply because their creators had no penis. (The doc also contains some artwork that’s utterly pretentious and seemingly pointless, just as some male artists produce, but that’s beside the point.) Museums simply wouldn’t grant females space.
A great many works featured are sexual in nature. The “Womanhouse” group installation of 1972 displayed fake breasts on its kitchen wall, while Martha Rosler’s 1977 video, “Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained,” depicts a woman being stripped of her clothing, all while being measured by a man in a lab coat. On a far more lighthearted side is Dara Birnbaum’s “Technology/ Transformation,” a 1978 loop of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, spinning into infinity.
As Hershman-Leeson notes, these were responses to the Miss America “ideal” by which society defined women, as well as the act of rape, which nearly half the Women Artists in Revolution members had experienced. Their identities, she says, were formed through their art.
A section on the 1980s focuses on the masked Guerilla Girls, whose protest tactics are so in-your-face, I’d like to see an entire documentary devoted to them. Anita Hill even figures in to the 1990s portion, and so does sickening, “Crucible”-esque news footage of congressman after congressman decrying Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” installation as “pornographic.” That they were trying to ban art is disheartening enough; that they were all male only hammers home “!WAR”’s indisputable point.
Rough around its edges, the film boasts a jubilant score by Sleater- Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, sung by indie darling Mary Timony. While it’s by no means an excellent documentary, it is an important one; rather than entertain, it enrages and enlightens.