Notable art openings are a wonderfully inevitable part of New York City in the fall, just like pumpkin spice lattes and orange leaves falling in Central Park. This year, the locus of fantastic feminist art is in Brooklyn – where I had the pleasure to explore new and permanent exhibits this past weekend.
Judy Chicago was the first artist to coin the term “feminist art” — her masterpiece is “The Dinner Party,” in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum. A retrospective of her early career just closed on Sunday, so I was able to see this seminal piece in the context of her other work – clearly illustrating her trajectory from woman artist to creator of iconic feminist art.
“The Dinner Party” depicts place settings for 39 famous historical and mythical women, starting with goddesses of prehistory and ending with painter Georgia O’Keefe. The long table is triangular, evoking the shape of a vulva, and each plate plays on Chicago’s butterfly vagina concept. The project took 6 years, cost $250,000, and required the help of more than 400 people – when you see it in person you can understand why. It’s spectacularly huge and immaculately detailed, from the names and designs embroidered onto each table runner, to the white “heritage floor” with the names of hundreds of other historical women engraved. Each woman’s place setting tells the stories of many others that couldn’t fit at the table, and they are all honored in a separate room displaying a series of wall panels with details about every woman’s life and contribution to history.
Since Judy Chicago invented feminist art in the 1970s, it’s grown and exploded into every possible medium, and it takes a very interesting turn in “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe,” running through February 15th at the Brooklyn Museum, after which the show will tour nationally. As sexy and dangerous as the title suggests, this was unlike any exhibit I’ve seen. Two-hundred eighteen shoes are on display in glass cases, dating back to 1550. From shoes worn by Geishas and courtesans to 3-D printed shoes, the show explores the ancient past and near future of footwear.
Walking through the exhibit it’s hard not to feel like you’re going to topple over yourself, as most of these shoes are not meant for walking – they’re meant for eroticizing. And perhaps that’s part of the allure of ridiculously high heels – mastering the art of the strut in such unwieldy footwear can give confidence to the clumsiest of souls.
There’s no shortage of contemporary fashion here –Louboutin, Balenciaga, Ferragamo and Christian Dior are all part of the spectacle.
My favorite part was the six videos playing on a loop in semi-private rooms throughout the exhibit. This is where the feminist in feminist art really came through for me. Videos by Nick Knight, Steven Klein, Marilyn Minter, and Rashaad Newsome were surreal, political and provocative. Glamor and fetish are un-apologetically explored here.
As tall, sultry and powerful as a high heel can make us feel, it’s hard to overlook the absurdist objectification we play into when we shop for and wear them. By no means am I immune to a killer heel; I practically swooned when I spied the stunning Damien Hirst boot pictured here.
After touring this exhibit, I won’t give up my shoe-addiction, but I’ll never look at a stiletto the same way again.
Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of “Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable” (Ten Speed Press/Crown Publishing, 2010) and eight other books. Stefanie keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more for many publications. Follow Stefanie @ecosexuality.
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Images via Stefanie Iris Weiss