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REDCAT Opens New Exhibition Exploring Influential Feminist Art Program at CalArts

A pink-red dilapidated car from Suzanne Lacy's Car Renovation art project in 1972, set along the then desolate 126 freeway.
Suzanne Lacy, Car Renovations, 1972. Performance created under the Feminist Art Program at CalArts, assignment from Judy Chicago class, highway 126, from Newhall to the Pacific Ocean. | Photo courtesy of Suzanne Lacy Studio.

This week, REDCAT celebrates the opening of The Feminist Art Program (1970-1975): Cycles of Collectivity, a new exhibition that reflects on the pioneering and influential Feminist Art Program, initially launched at Fresno State College and continued at CalArts. The exhibition brings together archival material from the program with artworks by participating artists, including new commissions by CalArts alums. 

In 1970, artist and educator Judy Chicago developed a feminist model for art and education with her students at Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno). Chicago was invited by Miriam Schapiro to collaboratively expand this program at CalArts in 1971, where along with art historian Arlene Raven, they would go on to develop radical and now-influential forms of art, pedagogy, and performance. 

Together with participating students and artists, they organized the first-ever feminist collective installation—Womanhousein Hollywood with students and guest artists in 1972. The Feminist Art Program also worked in close dialogue with CalArts’ Women’s Design Program and the School of Critical Studies, led by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Deena Metzger, respectively. 

Though the program formally ended in 1975, its complex and fruitful moment encouraged feminist pedagogies to bloom inside and outside CalArts. The exhibition recognizes the many generations of faculty and students that have stewarded the Feminist Art Program’s histories and legacy through collective cycles of teaching, archiving, exhibition-making, and experimenting with feminist educational models. The Feminist Art Program (1970-1975) functions as an active center of pedagogical engagement, conversation, and critique that contains diverse Feminisms, gender theories, and transfeminisms. 

The exhibition is organized around two related components. An archival section is gathered from institutional and personal material that documents Feminist Art Program histories, including artworks by students made for course assignments and thesis exhibitions. This material draws connections with key feminist initiatives that followed the program’s closure, including curatorial initiatives undertaken throughout the 1990s and 2000s to revive this history, such as the Feminist Art Workshop (FAWS, 1998), Camp TT (2001), and Exquisite Acts and Everyday Rebellions (2007). These consider the continuity of feminist teaching at CalArts through faculty interviews and course descriptions.

A second section brings together new cycles rethinking feminist archives, histories, and pedagogies, through new commissioned artworks by CalArts alumni, including emerging interdisciplinary artist ak jenkins (Art MFA 23), renowned feminist artist Andrea Bowers (Art MFA 92), artist Gala Porras-Kim (Art MFA 09), whose work has been exhibited in recent editions of Made in LA, the Whitney Biennial, São Paolo Biennial, and other notable exhibitions, and acclaimed performance artist Suzanne Lacy, who was a student of both the Feminist Art Program at Fresno State College and Women’s Design Program at CalArts. 

The second section of newly created works includes a special presentation of The Performing Archive (2007/2023) by Lacy and Leslie Labowitz Starus, that considers the importance of feminist artists who build and share their archives in passing down feminist art histories. Bowers presents a film capturing a newly conducted interview with Chicago. Porras-Kim resurrects Schapiro’s 1974 project, Letters to a Young Woman Artist, which invited women artists to address the next generation from the contemporary moment. Lastly, jenkins presents an installation centering track and field athletes from the 1960s through the present day, who jenkins argues have historically used their sport to exercise a collective feminist praxis of their own.

The Feminist Art Program (1970-1975) aims to present a growing feminist movement of multiple voices, contexts, and identities over time to confront the complex contemporary moment. An intergenerational collective of scholars, artists, activists, designers, and curators have contributed to this show with advice, research, memories, syllabi, and artworks.

The exhibition was organized by REDCAT Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Programs, Daniela Lieja Quintanar, with Assistant Curator Talia Heiman, independent curator Lucia Fabio, and artist/curator Ekta Aggarwal (Art MFA 18), along with research support by Ana Briz, Julia Raphaella Aguila, Arantza Vilchis-Zarate, and Yishan Xin. Janet Sarabanes, faculty in the CalArts School of Critical Studies, served as Curatorial Advisor. The exhibition was designed by Kim Zumpfe.

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Katie Dunham

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REDCAT Opens New Exhibition Exploring Influential Feminist Art Program at CalArts