Opening on Jan. 30, 2008 - Libby Rowe's PINK exhibition was a great success. Filled with participating viewers, PINK was more performance art than observatory. For artist's statement and additional images, see www.libbyrowe.com .
It was exciting to see an exhibition so thoroughly evaluate what it means to be a woman and how society has effected the outcome of girls and the subsequent lives of future women, and thereby their future generations. The recent exhibition http://www.wackatnmwa.org/ WACK! covers female artists from 1965-1980. Should anyone ever curate an exhibition of female artists, of which I am waiting with baited, anticipatory breathe, from our contemporary times, Libby Rowe deserves a spot!
Visually ROWE covered every aspect for the impact of PINK - from the strings on the labels for WEB OF LIES to the authentic glass shelving which displays the embellishments for LEARNING FEMININE - SISTERS, to the hue of ink on the labels, every detail was deliberate and successful.
Overseeing the entire environment were two LIBBYs, one her everyday persona: wife, teacher, artist, daughter, and friend, which frequents the artistic venues of Nashville and Vanderbilt to a new, renovated LIBBY: "costumed" in a vintage pink and black polka dot dress which she fashioned herself, to her tidy heels and pantyhose - she was feminized literally from the crown of her head (beauty-shopped hair) and makeup, to her pedicured toes. The transformation from the androgynous everyday LIBBY to the 50's ideal of womanhood LIBBY was historically recorded via video and photography which became part of the series.
In the piece, IT SUCKS, Rowe is concentric with artist Catherine Obie, www.gladstonegallery.com
www.regenprojects.com, as recently exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art*. Please keep in mind, however, that ROWE's artwork stands on its own, separate from the box of feminist art. One paints/writes/acts what one knows, in this way ROWE has provided a clear biological and biographical microscope into the mind of a specific era of humans - those raised by unknowing conformist baby boomers. Such parents still cling to the ideals of "Leave It to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" families - thus setting themselves and their children up for crisis's of identity. This identity issue can be manifested in many ways - ROWE provides us with an analytic, female version of an artistic soul.
The main question in PINK is: what, TODAY, defines feminine???
In our societal quest for tolerance, this question and answer is no longer gender based. Just as an artist wishes to be judged on the merits of their work/lives/worldviews - so, too, do individuals - regardless of their race, gender, social status, or religion. We are lucky that ROWE provides in her artist's statement an open and clear view of her individual experiences and philosophies. These insights provide the viewer with direct lines of understanding. PINK is a documentary of her quest to understand her own femininity and to redefine it for her future.
Many contemporary artists prefer ambiguity - with ROWE, what you see is what you get. This is one of the most refreshing aspects of her work. The deeper experience comes when you follow her pointing finger to the broader connections leading to societal, political, and, YES!, feminist agendas.
It is notable that during the participatory phase of CHIN UP (wherein the viewer becomes a willing participant in choosing a pair of pink, high heel shoes [provided in sizes 5 -13], and walks a PINK line across the gallery, turns, and returns to the starting point, all the while precariously balancing white dishware on their heads; in the event of failure, the viewer/participant/enactor is allowed to clean up after themselves by using a pink-handled broom, sweeping the remnants of their failure into a communal pile). This was the strongest metaphor - that the failures (and successes) of all are irrevocably related to the whole - that singularity can be both celebrated and understood, literally supported and assimilated into the whole. Many males participated - it was unnerving to view a male college student and a young boy practicing the roles that have been forced upon females for millenniums - willingly and with humor.
Blake Glopkin stated, regarding feminist art in his April 2007 "What is Feminist Art" article in the Washington Post, ". . . [i]t pushed instead for work that talked about crucial issues in the world outside. Ever since feminism, in all areas of art making, the message has mattered as much as the medium." I couldn't state more clearly that feminist art is not a contained, unattached "ism" within art - all humans are products of some female, thereby relating feminist art 100% to the entire human race.
(My personal favorite - the Participatory Web of Lies)
*Brooklyn Museum of Art contains one of the only databases of feminist art, The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/
(note: any mistakes on titles or intent are solely the fault of me, the writer! This review is my interpretation of PINK - there were so many more thoughts on individuals pieces, this is just the tip of the iceberg - I hope you enjoy exploring Rowe's artwork through my eyes).