American Women, American Artists

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Three Figures in Landscape

Miriam Laufer

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Blue Ladies

Susan Bee

From Johanna Drucker on Bee and Laufer:

Thematically and formally, Laufer’s work shows the struggles of a mid-century woman artist formed in the legacy of modernism and then participating in first-wave American feminism. By contrast, Susan Bee’s work builds on that legacy. Born and raised in New York City, Bee is a first-generation American. She is an urban and urbane artist whose migrations map onto the grid of Manhattan and all its nuanced semiotics of upper West Side, East Side, and Tribeca studio spaces. However, she is also the daughter of Jewish immigrant artists, who escaped the Holocaust that engulfed many of their relatives in Europe. Her father, Sigmund Laufer, is also a graphic artist, printmaker, and book designer. Growing up in NY, Bee had many more sources of inspiration on which to model her work and approach than just that of her mother. Her peer group shared a sense of self-definition that women a generation earlier had to struggle to find on their own. The shift from individual struggle to collective effort was significant. In the 1970s, Bee was a young artist and the battles of an older generation had already broken the once total barriers to professional recognition for women. Bee came of age as the women’s movement swelled a tide of progressive energy. The work of feminist groups around the country brought an active discussion of women’s aesthetics to the fore. Bee’s own work challenges some of the received legacy of that first-wave sensibility, particularly by its enthusiasm (however critical) for the cliches and images of women in popular culture. But she also partakes of the permissions and entitlements gained by the women of her mother’s generation. In her painting and her publishing, Bee was able to begin from a foundation others struggled to achieve. In the generic, generational sense, Bee benefited from her (collective) mothers’ work and efforts.

Read the whole thing here

From Is Resistance Futile? by Susan Bee:

Some people question the need for exclusively women’s institutions like A.I.R. Certainly, there is the danger of ghettoizing female artists or of the damaging perception that women-only galleries are second-rate. In addition, A.I.R., in particular, faces a generational crisis: its membership is aging, and it is difficult to attracting qualified and interesting younger women. Younger women artists want to make it in the mainstream, if possible, not languish on the fringes, or in the past, where many think the feminist movement resides. Some of the pressure is off too: circumstances have improved for younger women artists, partly due to the intervention of galleries like A.I.R. Many more opportunities exist for younger women artists to move straight into the mainstream. All these issues swirl around the gallery, creating difficulties. But then, the decision to follow a feminist path in art has never been easy. Being political and announcing your difference is not the most unproblematic way to proceed in the artworld. That’s what makes maintaining an openly feminist space, with self-declared feminist artists in charge, a continuing challenge.

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Arabesque (detail)

Susan Bee

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3 thoughts on “American Women, American Artists

  1. Oooh, I just *love* the colors in “Blue Ladies.” Somehow, that picture just meets my mood – and then elevates it. If that makes any sense.

    • I was delighted to find the art of Miriam Laufer and Susan Bee while researching the death of 23 year old Emma Bee Bernstein, feminist artist/photographer, who died Dec. 20th. Susan was her mother and Miriam her grandmother. Out of grief came the discovery of this beauty.

  2. Oh wow. What a terrible thing. 23 years old. I’ve known a few people who’ve outlived a child, and I cannot picture anything harder.

    Warmly,
    Sungold

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