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Feminists and formalists part II


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At the Adelaide AAANZ conference two years ago, I presented some unresolved ideas under the title ‘Feminists and Formalists’. I was looking at the parallel emergence, in New Zealand in the 1970s, of modernist abstraction, encouraged by the Auckland dealer Petar Vuletic and pursued mainly by men, and the Women’s Art Movement. The latter was in many ways a critique of the former. Women artists produced ephemeral or site-based works that involved the body, rather than a purely visual experience, while feminist critics and theorists argued that formalism, with its emphasis on aesthetic rather than social or political values, tended to privilege the work of male artists. However, in this paper I hope to provide an account of aesthetic experience that connects these rival groups.

Interpretation and assessment of key New Zealand feminist artworks from the 1970s and 1980s has tended to maintain a troubling separation between the social function or efficacy of the works and their aesthetic impact. Conversely, important paintings by some of the abstract artists who exhibited at the Petar/James Gallery have failed to maintain a place in the ‘canon’ of New Zealand art, or have not been extensively discussed or researched, precisely because they do not seem to lend themselves to analysis in other than ‘formalist’ terms. The emphasis on complexity of meaning in contemporary art and art-writing may hinder our appreciation of feminists and formalists alike. Both depend on a certain toughness or leanness of form, either for its own sake, or for the sake of making a political point. Is it possible that in accounting for our experience of such works, we omit thoughts and feelings, impulses and desires, which lie beyond the terms in which we usually discuss ‘art’, or, indeed, beyond articulation?

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Divisions: Schools > School of Media Arts
Depositing User: Edward Hanfling
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2013 22:53
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 03:08

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