Other Voices, Other Rooms
“Herland” at 60 Wall Gallery, Deutsche Bank New York

With its “Women on Wall Street” conference, Deutsche Bank strengthens the role of women in the financial world. This year, the project is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, the 60 Wall Gallery at Deutsche Bank New York is showing “Herland”—a show in which women artists from the corporate collection present women artists that inspire them.
She’s the Cindy Sherman of the post-digital age: K8 Hardy, performance artist, embodies the exact opposite of the stereotypical female roles propagated in fashion magazines and films. To her mind, identity is largely a social construct that can be changed at will. Using second-hand clothes and striking makeup, K8 Hardy transforms herself into a variety of female figures that defy categorization.

K8 Hardy invited one of her former teachers, artist and filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin, to take part in the Herland show. Subrin shows photographic works connected to her film Shulie, a remake of a 1967 documentary on Shulamith Firestone, who was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago at the time. Three years after the film was shot, and after her book The Dialectic of Sex became a bestseller, Firestone became one of the singular most important voices in radical feminism. In Shulie, Subrin reenacts the documentary using actors and original locations. The reenactment teases out the tense relationship between fact and fiction and demonstrates that many of the problems that already occupied Firestone as a student continue to persist to this day—discrimination against women and people of color in the workplace, among other things. At the same time, Shulie sees itself as an homage to a generation whose political efforts women today have much to be grateful for.

The economic, political, and social status of women has indeed improved over the past several decades, yet despite this progress, the goal of complete equality between men and women is still a very distant prospect—particularly in professional life. Thus, for instance, the percentage of women among American CEOs is still less than 5%. In 1991, in order to strengthen women’s interests at Deutsche Bank, the initiative “Women on Wall Street” was founded with great success. While in the beginning only around 200 women became involved in the “Women on Wall Street” conference, this year more than 2,000 women visited what is now the 20th edition of the event. Many of them work in leading positions for important Wall Street firms.

To celebrate the anniversary, eight women artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection were invited to select a woman artist that they hold in particularly high esteem. “Both exhibition and industry conference celebrate women of achievement and excellence, and advance the feminist principles of encouraging greater representation in their field,” explains Liz Christensen, Senior Curator, Deutsche Bank. And that’s as necessary in the art world as it is in the financial branch. In ArtMag, Wangechi Mutu also observes that “many of the persistent gender biases and sexual inequalities that plague women in the art world also exist in every other professional sphere. The art world reflects and hopefully reveals the problems that the larger system is suffering from.”

In Herland, Mutu, whom Deutsche Bank voted their first “Artist of the Year” in 2010, is represented with the suite The Original Nine Daughters. These nine daughters turn out to be a bizarre hybrid between human and animal, plant and machine. Mutu, in turn, invited Saya Woolfalk, one of America’s most unusual young women artists. “Walking into one of Saya's installations is like walking into a mysterious museum from some kind of parallel universe,” says Mutu. Woolfalk has created her own spiritual universe, populated by women she calls Empathics—androgynous science fiction creatures made up in blue and white that play out every conceivable categorization according to sex or race ad absurdum. (You can read more about Saya Woolfalk in our feature.)

Woolfalk’s utopian approach fits perfectly to Herland. The exhibition title is based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s eponymous novel, in which the women’s rights activist, who died in 1935, presents an alternative to the male-dominated society: a community consisting exclusively of women that arose in a completely isolated region of South America—an ideal world entirely free of war and violence that fosters education, cooperation, the creative spirit, and aesthetics. Gilman wrote Herland in 1915: five years before women got the vote in the USA - her advocacy of women's financial equality was a trumpet call.

Almost as strange as Woolfalk’s Empathics are the works of María Magdalena Campos-Pons. In her Polaroids, the artist stages herself with a face powdered in white and a birdcage atop her head, adorned with feathers and strings of pearls. The images were made on the occasion of the Cuban artist’s performance at the 2013 Venice Biennial, where she presented herself as a kind of multicultural goddess on the Piazza San Marco. On the other hand, Carrie Mae Weems’s photographic works are more conceptual than performance-based. Standing with her back to the camera, the African American artist poses before a minimalist Sol Lewitt sculpture, for instance, or the British Museum. Weems questions the role criteria such as sex and race play when art is evaluated by institutions. Ko Siu Lan, who was invited by Cao Fei, also criticizes prevailing conditions. Her Rubik’s Cube contains the word One in combination with Nation, Family, Child, Husband, System, Country, World, Party, Voice—a subtle commentary on the political and social pressure in her native China.

For other artists in Herland, formal considerations play a central role: in the compositions of Fanny Sanín, which are shown in dialogue with Soledad Salamé’s view of the Brooklyn Bridge printed on felt, it’s a matter of color, structure, order, and harmony. There are astonishing correspondences between Sanín’s austere geometric studies and the bridge’s constructive design. In her multi-media collage A Thing with Feathers (2012), Judy Pfaff lets painted and applied forms swirl around like autumn leaves. In contrast, Keltie Ferris’s painting Trio comes across as technical rather than organic—lines reminiscent of graffiti dance on a colorful, pixelated background. “After seeing Keltie Ferris’s shows, I feel like a champion of hers,” says Pfaff. “She represents a new generation who is creating a range of inventions within the discipline of abstract painting.”

Barbara Astman also invited a younger artist to the show, Sondra Meszaros. The two are represented in Herland with works that are almost ghostly. For her series I As Artifact, Astman photographed cosmetic masks that have been removed, fragile structures resembling archaic artifacts in front of a deep black background. In her large-scale charcoal drawing, Meszaros merges mystical being and landscape.

On the other hand, Miwa Yanagi looks back to an earlier generation. With Ishiuchi Miyako, she has chosen one of the few women who was able to hold her own on the male-dominated Japanese photography scene. On view are three of her intimate black and white interiors from the late 1970s. Yanagi herself presents one of her large-scale works from the series My Grandmothers. Her photographs portray how young women imagine their lives in fifty years’ time. Yuka, for instance, sees herself racing over the Golden Gate Bridge in the sidecar of a motorcycle. Her garishly colored red hair flows in the wind, and she’s shouting in joy. Yanagi has aged her “grandmothers” using make up and digital retouching; they defy every traditional female stereotype—a position that all women artists in Herland share.
Achim Drucks

Herland
through 3/17/2015
60 Wall Gallery
Deutsche Bank, 60 Wall Street, New York