36th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting : de Kooning, Johns, Kelly, Lichtenstein, Rauchenberg, Cocoran Gallery of American Art, 1979. 

What’s wrong with this picture? : Male Painters and Women Curators

I’ll be shot for this one, but, to me there is nothing hotter than a male painter. Besides John McEnroe, I had one celebrity schoolgirl crush and that was on Willem de Kooning.

Looking at the cover of the 36th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting is as good as art porn gets. These babes in their finger painted smocks standing contrapasto against epic gallery walls or perched atop work-stools are brutally handsome.

My excitement, however, is a quick flush and then it dissipates as I realize there is something missing from this picture - women. How do you have a Biennial of Contemporary American Painting in 1979 without including Elizabeth Murray, Judy Chicago, Pat Steir, Mira Schor, Helen MoFo Frankenthaller, Agnes Martin etc. and so forth!!!!!!!! Especially since Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?  represented a watershed moment and ushered in a new era in art history which according to the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Art Museum’s Feminist Timeline was THEEE FEMINIST DECADE, and according to Deborah Kass in the Brooklyn Rail The 70’s was the only decade in which women painters got their due and functioned in the tiny art market of the time, relatively on par with their male colleagues.” It simply does not c-o-m-p-u-t-e.

And yet, it happened. As I made it past the cover and flipped through the pages of this catalog, the work was undeniable. I mean check out that Rauschenberg piece in the image above. It still looks important and new. What was Jane Livingston thinking when she was putting that show together? That’s right JANE LIVINGSTON (Who along with Marcia Tucker  and probably a list of other lady curators who got ousted, quit, or quietly resigned from major museums for standing by their radical men and women have made up a large portion of my adult art crushes) was behind this particular biennial. Here I stand a women curator / painter in a glass house, holding bricks in her hand ready and willing to shatter my own predilection. I don’t know how many waves of Feminism there have been, I stopped counting after three, but, it feels like I need to be in the swell in order to really understand the impact this kind of exhibition making has on the world. So thank you catalog for crashing down on me.

Over the long haul, Livingston became a leader in the field Jane Livingston was curator of 20th-century art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 1967 to 1975. There, she worked with Maurice Tuchman on the exhibitions 11 Los Angeles Artists and Art and Technology; organized the first major museum exhibition of the artist Bruce Nauman, co-curated with Marcia Tucker; and mounted the first museum exhibition devoted to Chicano art. In 1975, Livingston became associate director and chief curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. She now works as an independent curator, and editor of the Richard Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonné. “  maybe one should not judge a curators contribution to the history of inequality on one show, but, rather take in the full spectrum of their work. So a little look to the left and to the right, revealed the following : two years before - The 35th Cochran Biennial included Lucinda Parker, Sandi Slone and Alma Thomas and by the 37th Biennial, Agnes Martin and Joan Mitchell were on the list. - KK

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