A Feminist R(t)e(a) Party

October 28, 2011

I joined Suzanne Stroebe and Caitlin Rueter yesterday for tea. They are the Feminist Tea Partiers: young women artists who stage kitchy klatches where face-to-face discourse about feminism, rather than local gossip, is the preferred subject. I enjoyed our little chat. These refined lady artists were warm, engaging, and driven. Yet I couldn’t also help to feel a little remorse twinged with a more profound pain that comes with the endless been-there-done-that cycle which seems to define so much feminist experience and art.

The need to playfully restage and thus reinvent our feminism after its “loss” by ironically using our mother’s (or mother’s mother’s) costumes and conventions has itself been done. The image above is from Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf’s show East/Village West, for PST, and shows Magnuson’s generation (late 70s) staging hauntingly similar parties. Women at the LA Woman’s Building in the early 70s did similar work (i.e. the Waitresses, or Ilene Segalove, or Womanhouse as only three examples visible in our show Doin’ it in Public at Otis for PST).

Also from E/V W. Campy eighties ladies.

I’m not blaming the new tea-partiers, in fact, someone needs to (re)do the thankless work which sadly seems to be the ongoing, never-ending, tedious but necessary first-step project of feminism, enabling young women to 1) call themselves feminists (in the face of a (re)circulating set of fears of the term, the position, or the movement) and 2) educate themselves in their feminist pasts. I do this work just about daily as a Woman’s Studies professor, and have done so now for twenty-one years, as have a huge number of people I love, respect, and honor. So why doesn’t it stick? Or better yet, where does it stick? Why can’t we build? Or better yet, where do we build?

As far as this current tea party goes, I would love to ask the ladies their thoughts on two questions (hereby beginning, I hope, an online feminist tea conversation):

  • I am left to wonder why the fifties motif and not, say, a seventies one?
  • Where does gay-male camp fit into your drag?

I’ve been lucky enough to attend three PST events thus far, and look forward to many more:

  • the opening of Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art and the Woman’s Building (for which I was one of the academic advisers): the show, thanks to curator Meg Linton, and adviser Sue Mayberry, does a truly amazing job presenting the ephemera of a movement, the residue of organizing, the strange after effects of activism, and the wily output of collectives.
  • a panel of the curators for MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism(s) in LA 1930-1985 where Jesse Lerner, Rober Ortiz-Torres, and Harry Gamboa Jr. spoke compellingly about the inspiring inter-relations of Mexicans, Anglos, Chicanos, and Angelenos, as they lived, traveled, toured, stole, shared, learned, and represented across and between these regions and ways of living.

  • a lovely, funky, fancy brunch hosted by Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf who gave a generous and detailed walk through of their East Village West show (charmingly, idiosyncratically, definitively unrelated in any visible way whatsoever to PST, given that the show presents the work of themselves and their friends, most of whom are lost to AIDS, in and about NYC in the 1980s, but all the more telling for that jarring, strange geographic and temporal twist).

The show as a whole, built from all its amazing parts, exhibits the wonderous if chilling power of high-quality deep-pocketed patronage. By conscientiously supporting institutions, scholars, and curators with enough hard cash to do our best work, the Getty is going to single-handedly change the story of art in LA. We thank them/it for it. While I am proud to have played a part, happy to have been paid, and pleased to learn from all the amazing shows that will flower across the city, the fact that this could never have happened using solely the resources of the academic, artistic, and cultural institutions of this city lead us to consider the place philanthropy will take in setting the stage for knowledge and culture in the near future.