City of Women

Her Own Way: Female Artists and the Moving Image in Art in Poland from the 1970s to the Present, TOP Museum, Tokyo

Modern Woman: Finnish Women Artists from the Collection of Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Tokyo National Museum of Western Art

Piramide Building: Ota Fine Arts, Wako Works of Art, Perrotin: Maria Farrar/ Miriam Cahn/ Emily Mae Smith

The days are over when we would ask men-even the militant revolutionary ones- for the permission to revolt.

Monique Wittig

This should have seemingly been the case in Aichi when members of the local right, including the mayor of Nagoya, stood as one, ramparts against artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung’s sculpture Monument for Peace, yet one more work that addresses correcting Japan’s war narrative; the piece was also meant to confront the welcome Comfort Women received from Korean men once they returned home. And though it would be unfair to suggest, in turn, that women’s groups in Japan stayed silent—the viral ‘sitting in the chair’ action, op-eds from the art community— it took all of three days for limp theory to again rule the day.

Meanwhile, Tokyo was having an unusually woke Summer of Art by Women, starting with the remarkable collection of Finnish painters, led by Helene Schjerfbeck who also had a major London show this year. What emerges from the National Museum of Western Art exhibition is less the emergence of an aesthetic than the solidarity of a movement, a displacement, from Helsinki to Paris and back. From Manet to Bonnard, and later expressionist encounters, the paintings by this group of women revel in the act of painting, but it is Schjerfbeck who posits a different palette, shifting the resonance in how her work is perceived. This meant that the story would be told differently, and would take time to be grasped.

Honorata Martin, Roof, 2015

Her Own Way at the Top Museum gathered a selection of media art works by female artists from Poland, from the 1970s to the present. Arguably, the first decade is the most powerful, as Poland still carried its underground aura of groundbreaking experimental theater and seminal auteur cinema that included Wajda, Zanussi, Skolimowski and yes, Polanski. Much of the work is performance based, the female body as transgressive instrument, occupying the frame in a manner in which the filmmakers afore mentioned never suspected. As with those of international colleagues at work making sure they would be involved in writing the history of this medium, the early works included in Marika Kuzmicz’s curation, like Jolanta Marcolla’s Kiss (1975), display a kinship with the films of Chantal Akerman, the dance/performance pieces of Yvonne Rainer, of Joan Jonas, and inevitably, Marina Abramovic. The decade is heroic, those that follow become more generic, predictable, as information circulates more freely and videos take on more of an ‘art school’ patina, notably Jana Shostak’s ambitiously necessary Miss Polonii (to be completed in 2020) in which the artist enters a national beauty contest (artist must be…) in order to correct from the inside, from inside ‘contemporary’ Poland.

Emily Mae Smith, Heretic Lace, 2019

Emily Mae Smith, The Gleaner and Me, 2019

Emily Mae Smith was on hand at Perrotin to frame her work, drawing simultaneously from Ingres and Disney, to which we could add Jean Michel Folon, in order to better subvert, to create a breach in which women are acknowledged as painters and allowed to address the sexual while staying on the side of never promising, a tongue licking, panty hose, and a vision of heaven in which the broom from Fantasia is tempted from all sides, like a song by Heaven 17.

Waiting for the witch to come and ride away with it.

That’s how it’s done.

S.

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