Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art

Farrar. Nov. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9780374105952. $35. FINE ARTS
In a 1931 speech, Virginia Woolf told an audience that art must both build and destroy. Using this thesis, Elkin (Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London) deeply examines women artists whose work critics and audiences have found challenging, threatening, obscene, or even grotesque—in other words, monstrous. Elkin analyzes the art and artists through a feminist lens, asserting that feminism and art are both filled with ambiguity and contradictions. Sections of the book are separated by a slash, which Elkin says represents both exclusion and inclusion simultaneously; a zone of ambiguity. The art considered is from as recently as Emma Sulkowicz’s high-profile 2014 “Mattress Performance,” and as far back as painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s self-portraits in the 1600s. An extensive bibliography and list of notes are included, as well as black-and-white images of many of the pieces of art referenced, which are interspersed throughout the text. This book leans heavily on the academic side, calling on the ideas of many notable feminist theorists such as Laura Mulvey, Judith Butler, and Susan Sontag, and might not be accessible to readers looking for a light analysis of pop culture and art.
VERDICT This book is better suited for academic libraries than for public libraries.
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