The consolidation of a feminist art history continues to be an ambitious and necessary project that still requires the work of numerous researchers. However, when we trace the path that has led us to the current questions, situating those figures that marked a before and after in our discipline, we all agree on the same name: Linda Nochlin.
Fifty years after our first troublemaker asked «why have there been no great women artists?», many of us have followed in the wake of her non-conformism, in order to piece together the histories of art that we need. Her 1971 article was written at a time when important texts for feminism had just been published, for example Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, while pioneering programmes were being created, such as the Feminist Art Programme in Fresno, or exhibitions such as Women Artists of America (1707-1964) (Newark Museum, 1965). However, nothing resembling a feminist art history existed at the time, so her question - as uncomfortable as it was pertinent - dynamited the official narrative and inaugurated a true paradigm shift. Faced with the scarcity of bibliography and references, her greatest contribution was to propose a place from which to learn to look again.
This conference aims to offer a critical, plural and reflective space from which to return to the figure of Nochlin in order to review her work, situate it in the contemporary context and commemorate the publication of a fundamental text such as «Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?». Furthermore, we cannot forget that it was not published in Spanish until 2008, a fact that, together with the limited and late translation of Nochlin’s works into our language, raises the need for encounters such as this one.
After all, decades after her question, we are still asking ourselves: What are we basing our art histories on today? What has been the trajectory of that foundational text that has been present in a society in constant change? Have its approaches really been superseded? Have our museums and our disciplines been renewed?
The areas of study from which it is proposed to review the figure and theoretical contribution of Linda Nochlin are:
1. Archaeologies of women artists
In the early 1970s, Nochlin devoted numerous academic works to highlighting the figures of numerous women artists. She did so through essays on contemporary names such as Miriam Schapiro, Sylvia Sleigh, Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman and Linda Benglis, but also on artists such as Dorothea Tanning, Mary Cassatt, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, in texts like «Some Women Realists» (1974), among others. Linda Nochlin was therefore aware of the urgency of constructing a new kind of discourse(s), but also of the need to create genealogies and to reclaim the names of great women artists.
As a teacher, curator, essayist, art critic, activist, feminist and committed intellectual, Nochlin also had other interests, among them the underrated 19th century and the realist artists. After all, the vindication of these subjects at a time when abstraction was at the forefront of the art scene constituted a challenge on a par with the valorisation of the artists of the past. In this sense, it is not surprising that in 1975, together with Ann Sutherland Harris, she curated the exhibition Women Artists: 1550-1950, heir in some ways to the exhibition Old Mistresses: Women Artists of the Past (1972). According to John Perrault, after the exhibition organised by Nochlin and Harris, the history of Western art would never be the same again.
Therefore, this block will accept proposals related to the validity of the need to create feminist genealogies, to continue recovering old and new referents, and to hold exhibitions of Women Artists. But it will also be able to receive papers focusing on the shortcomings or «pending tasks» of current feminist historiography and on how we construct the narrative of all those figures who are absent from traditional discourse.
2. Feminisms in contemporary art
Through her work, Nochlin radically questioned the foundations of art history, problematising issues such as the criteria of quality, differentiation, hierarchy and the established canon, which has traditionally been defined as white, male, heterosexual and middle-class. At the basis of her thinking was her reading of Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous. But she also took part in debates on basic questions such as «What is Female Imagery?», together with Lucy Lippard and Arlene Raven, who were also pioneers in the creation of a feminist art history in the United States. In that forum, the existence of a feminine sensibility was questioned, an issue that, together with those already mentioned, such as quality or the canon, played a leading role in the debates of those decades.
In view of this, we cannot forget the repercussions that feminism had on the cultural scene in the 20th century. The integration of this feminist gaze and perspective in the generation of discourses meant a change of paradigm that would lead some academic institutions and museums to question their practices and methodologies, as well as the gradual - and still ongoing - integration of the so-called gender studies in their teaching and cultural programmes.
In this case, all those contributions that study female artistic education, the concepts of genius and amateur artist, or the historical confrontation between the traditionally so-called decorative arts and the fine arts are encouraged. In addition, proposals will be accepted that delve into the problematisation of the established canon, the need for new feminist practices, the incorporation of gender studies in artistic and cultural educational institutions, and the point at which our country finds itself with respect to the international context in museum issues from a feminist perspective.
3. Legacies: historiographical review, post-colonial critique and queer theories
There have been several legacies of Linda Nochlin’s work. Within the historiography of the 19th century, Nochlin made an important contribution through her exhaustive review of French art, and in particular, of realism. The historian was able to take a different look at this artistic movement, which she analysed in relation to the concepts of modernism and modernity, taking an interest in the social problems of the period. Her perspective from the social history of art inaugurated a change of paradigm that was decisive for the approach and development of any research in the discipline. After this revelation or estrangement, we could not look at things in any other way; the old certainties began to be questionable, giving rise to new revisions of traditional art history. Equally, and in relation to this new approach, her work was never restricted to «writing about women». Linda Nochlin refused to reintegrate them into an authoritative narrative and discourse that she herself challenged as Western, masculine and heterosexual. Her perspective and theoretical critique transcended any essentialism from the outset, and the fact that her thought was situated at the intersection between the artistic and the political paved the way within art history for the subsequent development of post-colonial criticism, on the one hand, and what we understand today as queer studies, on the other.
Thus, her lines of research include essays such as «The Imaginary Orient» (1983) in which, taking the question of Orientalism as a starting point, she criticised the «usual art-historical treatment» that excluded the uses and political scope of the images. At the same time, Nochlin highlighted the figure of artists whose work traversed the oppression and prejudice derived from slavery, imperialism or colonialism, as in the case of Kara Walker, in whom «representation depends, through its language and power, on the questions of gender imbricated in racial questions». In this regard, Nochlin helped forge the beginnings of post-colonial criticism and queer theories by questioning the basis and foundations of the canon, and considering both to be allies of feminist critique.
For her part, with pioneering and, at that time, provocative works such as Achetez des pommes/ Achetez des bannanes (1972) Nochlin proposed the deconstruction of any binary hierarchy and of any gender stereotype, questioning the still conservative ideas about femininity and masculinity. More precisely, issues such as the representation of the body and the nude would articulate a large part of her reflections and public lectures, pointing out in them the pre-eminence of images of desire and homoeroticism from a masculine and normative perspective, which prevented a much more diverse representation of sexuality. These concerns would lead her to study figures such as Warhol in relation to the exhibition held in 1995 at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In this way, Nochlin has become a fundamental point of reference for many researchers in gender studies and queer theories, demonstrating the unquestionable and still necessary links between these lines of work and the feminist perspective.
In this last block, papers will focus, for example, on the historiographical revision of 19th century historiography and realism, as long as they promote alternative views, as Nochlin did. She also encourages reflection on the need for new parameters from which to make art history, as well as on the feminist heritage of the methodologies used by post-colonial criticism and queer studies applied to the artistic discipline.
Proposals may be written in Spanish or English and will have a maximum duration of 20 minutes.
They must include:
- Block to which the proposal is addressed
- Abstract (maximum 300 words)
- Short CV (maximum 150 words)
- Contact details: name and surname, institution of affiliation (if any) and email address.
Proposals will be sent by email to the following address firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, a selection of the proposals presented at the conference will be invited to form part of a collective publication.
Deadline for the receipt of proposals: 13 July 2021
Deadline for the communication of proposals accepted: At the end of July 2021
14-15 October 2021
Mixed mode (online and face-to-face, the latter depending on health conditions).
Salón de Grados. Faculty of Geography and History, Complutense University of Madrid.
Edif. B, Calle del Prof. Aranguren, s/n, 28040 Madrid.
Carmen Gaitán Salinas
Esther Romero Sáez