Following an invitation from The Aldrich’s then-director, Dorothy Mayhall, renowned writer and curator Lucy R. Lippard organized Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists, which opened at the Museum in April of 1971. The exhibition, which presented the work of twenty-six emerging women artists—all never having a solo show in New York City before March 1 of that year—marked one of the first institutional stagings dedicated exclusively to women artists, a response to the art world’s implicit gender discrimination that would ultimately jumpstart feminist curatorial practices across the country.
In preparation of the exhibition, Lippard visited 100 artist studios in just six weeks, resulting in Twenty Six’s vast range of expression—from Adrian Piper’s whistleblowing performance and Audrey Hemenway’s swamp installation, to Howardena Pindell’s soft grid and Shirley Pettibone’s stuffed muslin wall works— revealing a survey of women artists working in New York in the early 1970s. And now, fifty years later, we revisit this landmark exhibition to spotlight its historical significance and lasting impact on a new generation of artists.
In keeping with Lippard’s initial parameters, 52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone will present works by the original twenty-six artists(1) alongside a new roster of twenty-six female identifying or non-binary New York-based artists born in or after 1980 and not yet having had a solo museum exhibition as of March 1, 2022. The checklist for the younger generation will echo Lippard’s pluralistic curatorial approach in selecting a multifarious lineup of works, signified by those such as Erin M. Riley’s brazen textile piece Webcam 2 (2020), Tourmaline’s entrancing sublimation print Coral Hairstreak (2020), and Catalina Ouyang’s elaborate multimedia installation Recourse (2021).
Despite these alignments, 52 Artists’ notability lies in its contrast to Twenty Six: the diversity extends past the work itself and into artist representation. In laying the foundation for the convergence of art and feminism, Lippard’s Twenty Six show disrupted the art world’s gate of gendered oppression, paving the way for intersectional advancements in years to come that would consider a more expansive view of feminism around issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, a concern that we hope is reflected in our 2022 iteration.
Not only does 52 Artists celebrate the fifty-first anniversary of a milestone exhibition by channeling the then-now feminist current, but it also gives us the opportunity to revise a lost record pivotal to the discourse of art history. Contrary to Twenty Six’s immense influence, little scholarship has been written on the show and few archival materials exist. The Museum’s inventory consists of only the exhibition catalogue and a handful of press clippings from mostly local news sources. No photographs. No complete checklist. No significant reviews. The overlooked nature of the 1971 show has induced a filling in of this historical gap and an attempt to amend its absence by reinstating its reputation as a paramount exhibition central to the development of feminist art practices over the last five decades.
Twenty Six was born from a period of social unrest as marginalized people fought for equality and activists protested the war in Vietnam. In 1970, a politically charged Lippard was protesting the Whitney’s Sculpture Annual every Saturday for four months with the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee (co-founded by Lippard, Poppy Johnson, Faith Ringgold, and exhibiting artist Brenda Miller) to demand equal representation for women. Subsequently, three months before mounting Twenty Six, Lippard published Changing: Essays in Art Criticism, which, according to curator Cornelia Butler, argued for “critical practices as activist and self-reflective instead of passive and removed.”(2 Comparably, the past four years spent working on 52 Artists have been engrossed with social upheaval surrounding women’s rights, racial injustice, and political strife, all amid a global pandemic. That is to say, though Twenty Six has excavated the path to progress, 52 Artists certainly continues the hike.
-Caitlin Monachino, Curatorial Assistant and Publications Manager
1. Three artists are not participating.
2. Cornelia Butler, “Women – Concept – Art: Lucy R. Lippard’s Numbers Shows” in From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard’s Numbers Shows 1969–74 (London: Afterall Books, 2012), pg. 17.
Top image: Carol Kinne, Cad Yellow, 1965. Collection R. Huot, New Berlin, New York Photo: Edward Hettig