Women Artists in Midcentury America: A History in Ten Exhibitions

Reaktion. Apr. 2024. 320p. ISBN 9781789148435. $40. FINE ARTS
In this well-researched survey, art historian Belasco takes on a particular cultural moment: the relatively conservative period when women were emerging as a force in contemporary art, but before the feminist art movements and calls for greater representation of the 1960s and ’70s. From the 1943 Exhibition by 31 Women at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in Manhattan, which showcased American women as heirs to the male European avant-garde tradition, to the 1962 Mount Holyoke College Art Museum’s energizing Women Artists in America Today, Belasco plumbs publicity material, photographs, correspondence, and reviews to dive deeply into each show and its art-world reverberations. Belasco’s presentation is academic but accessible, and his scholarship is rewardingly thorough, providing extensive context around the curatorial choices involved in assembling the featured paintings, sculpture, photographs, prints, and textile art. He pays close attention to the frequent exclusion of the art of women of color from these shows—the San Francisco Women Artists 1952 exhibition being a notable exception—and points to Black, Asian, Native, and Latina artists of the time whose work might have strengthened the exhibitions.
VERDICT Scholarly in tone, this would be a good inclusion for a contemporary art history collection, with appeal for students, researchers, or anyone with a strong interest in modern art or women’s studies.
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