There has long been a bond between the women artists of New York and Chicago. In the 1960s as the feminist movement began to influence thought and politics and in the early 1970s as inroads were being made into the arts, women artists in both cities shared a common cause—a critical lack of opportunities to get their ideas out into the world through exhibiting their artworks. Out of networking (especially through the activities of the West-East Bag, or WEB), information exchange, and a desire for change, in September 1972 A.I.R. Gallery (Artists in Residence, Inc.) opened as the first artist-run cooperative to exhibit women artists in America. And in part as a result of the exchanges between New York and Chicago, ARC (Artists, Residents of Chicago) opened exactly one year later. Although accused by traditionalists defending the male-dominated bastion of the fine arts of offering “dabblers” undeserved opportunities, in Chicago ARC allowed a generation of women artists finally to have a voice. A.I.R., founded by a number of pioneering and now nationally and internationally significant female artists, had less overt skepticism to face, perhaps, but it was not easy to be a woman artist in the 1970s in either city. Both galleries have persevered now for over forty years, providing supportive resources for literally hundreds of women in the difficult enterprise that is a career in the arts. And while times have changed, sadly the underrepresentation of women artists is still endemic in many artworld venues. As an expression of this reality, and the strong bond that exists between the two galleries, A.I.R. arranged for an exhibition at their sister institution ARC and asked me to curate a show of the current members. Of the over one hundred works submitted by the twenty-three artists, I have chosen twenty-five pieces, including sculpture, painting, drawings, photography, and various printmaking media. It became immediately apparent that the body was a major motif in many of the submissions; I thus chose the body as the organizing concept. There are works that clearly present the body: the doll-like imagery of Liz Biddle; the darkly reworked comic strips of Francie Shaw; the compelling cast-paper sculpture of Louise McCagg. A rather malevolent figure peeks out of Daria Dorosh’s corner piece; a nude woman drawn in dramatic perspective from above reaches her imploring hand toward the viewer in Cynthia Karasek’s drawing. There are negative and positive profiles presented against geometric shapes in Catherine Mosley’s work; legs and a face surface in richly layered montage of imagery by Joan Snitzer. Barbara Siegel’s mixed media collage combines the human visage with natural forms.
And then there are the works that insinuate the body: a face emerges from Jayanthi Moothy’s abstract, linear forms. The garlands of forms in Sylvia Netzer’s whimsical India ink drawing form a delightfully silly face. The blurred, richly colored forms in Maxine Henryson’s photograph can be seen as side-by-side robed figures. Similarly, Luisa Sartori’s frieze of old-fashioned streetlamps have some of the anthropomorphic feeling of the bewitched brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice section of Disney’s Fantasia. Other works refer more obliquely to the body: Ann Pachner’s print featuring hypnotic, radiating color patterns is titled Abundant Heart and calls to mind both the physical beating and emotional emanations of that vital organ. Elisabeth Munro Smith’s abstract painting, All gone, with its cuplike shape and title evokes a baby (although it also calls to mind more adult concerns given the trickle of black that falls out of the shape). Even those works that do not depict or insinuate the body allude to it. The bow-like shapes of Erica Stoller’s scrap-plastic tubing sculptures are human scale and therefore evoke tools or instruments of some sort. Nancy Storrow’s hypnotic rendering of whirled lines and forms seems a metaphor for the tornado of emotions that can beset us. Jane Swavely’s poetic painting Hudson River June trip #1 reveals the viewpoint of an individual standing, observing a particular, and seemingly much-loved, landscape. Several works allude to the body by presenting images of houses and domestic items. Ann Schaumburger uses the most basic form of the house in diminutive but insistent geometric abstractions. Julia Westerbeke presents a viscous substance oozing out of an electrical socket in a disturbing vignette of small, everyday things gone wrong. Laura Petrovich-Cheney’s Block by Block assembles bits of recycled wood into a colorful, abstracted map of a neighborhood, the title a delightful double entendre. Kathleen Schneider’s Rosette III, a colorful mandala of flower-like forms, evokes a charming formal garden. Bodies other than human are also present: Yvette Drury Dubinsky fashions a lovely flow of forms that features fish and frogs ‘swimming’ in the blue offered by the technique of cyanotype. And finally, Mary Sweeney’s poignant White Bees, a resin rendering of dead bees, reminds us of our own mortality in evoking bleached bones, and in the consequences we human can rain down on the other creatures of the earth. It is not surprising a group of women might focus on the body and various implications of the body. “The Body in Revue” with this particular spelling is meant to evoke a showing, a parade of artworks, but it also should call to mind a review, a re-seeing. The works of the artist-members of A.I.R. have a collective weight as certainly as each artist has a unique and expertly expressed vision.