In the Age of Mad Men, Meet the Women of Pop Art

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968

“Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968” is a bountiful, energetic and thought-provoking exhibition that considers the influence of women artists on Pop Art and its preponderantly male orientation. Now on view at the Brooklyn Museum, this all-female retrospective challenges and expands the limited scope of the mid-century Pop Art movement by recognizing important women artists of the period. Installed in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, more than fifty artworks are on display—including those by Niki de Saint Phalle, Marisol, May Wilson, Rosalyn Drexler, Joyce Wieland, Pauline Boty and many others.

Before the unequivocal revolt of 1970s feminism, very few women artists made overt challenges to male domination. As curator Sid Sachs describes in his introductory essay, gender roles within the bohemian art world still reflected those of mainstream American society and domestic life. Female artists of the Mad Men era were required to act like wives, lovers, mothers and caretakers first, while putting their own careers last. Since open defiance was not yet an option, a more covert subversion—indeed, a seductive subversion—took place.

Iconic images of masculinity, seemingly both ridiculed and revered, appear in Marisol’s John Wayne and Dorothy Grebenak‘s Hall of Fame (featuring baseball legend Babe Ruth). May Wilson, in her Ridiculous Portrait (above), confronts the sexist and ageist male gaze by seating an awkward Queen Elizabeth amidst a sea of Beefeaters. Meanwhile, Idelle Weber depicts silhouettes of suit-clad businessmen riding escalators, dubbing them Munchkins. Undoubtedly more confrontational is Martha Rosler’s Vacuuming Pop Art, which shows a prim housewife (a la June Cleaver) gliding her Hoover around the claustrophobic confines of a Pop Art gallery. One can read considerable contempt in these works without too much eye strain. In this pre-Women’s Liberation time
capsule, feminist anger looks decidedly tongue-in-cheek.

“Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968” is on display through January 9, 2011 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn; (718) 638-5000,

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