From 21 January to 12 March 2022, London gallery Gazelli Art House presents Oh, Marilyn!, a group exhibition dedicated to the 60s wave of female emancipation in the UK and US. Works by four instrumental artists, Pauline Boty, Judy Chicago, Penny Slinger and Jann Haworth, depict a time of change and rebirth of perception and acceptance of a new and different female role within society. The exhibition’s curators explain: “Oh, Marilyn! falls within our dedicated series of curated annual historic exhibitions exploring social themes that gallery artists were part of. The title draws on the mark Marilyn Monroe has left following her death in 1962 and the change in perception of what the female role was or should have been. The selected four iconic artists have been at the forefront of this change and it is a great pleasure to be able to exhibit some of their key historic pieces.”
Showing for the second time at the gallery, Pauline Boty, who passed away in 1966, was a founder of the British pop art movement. Her paintings and collage work often made references to female sexuality as well as current affairs, critiquing the nature of the “man’s world.” On display in the exhibition are works created in the early 60’s, Angel, and A Big Hand, a collage work depicting a female hand holding sculptural figures from Rome’s Trevi Fountain above a Victorian park scene. Multidisciplinary artist Judy Chicago was a trailblazer of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s; for decades, she has made work that celebrates the multiplicity of female identity. The exhibition features Chicago’s works And She Vomited up the Sun and the Moon and then the night had its Own Light, 1981, and her pyrotechnic Atmospheres series, a project which began in 1968 when Chicago lined a Pasadena Street with billowing fog machines.
Chicago tells Something Curated: “Between 1968 and 1974, I executed a series of increasingly complex fireworks pieces that involved site-specific performances around California. These early pyrotechnic performances incorporated coloured smokes, magnesium flares and road flares in a series titled Atmospheres whose purpose was to soften or ‘feminise’ the environment, if only for a moment. With a small team of friends, I created progressively more ambitious projects that transformed beaches, parks, forests, deserts, construction sites and museums with explosions of brilliant colours that were organised according to the principles I was developing in order to use colour as a metaphor for emotive states.” The series evolved over a decade as a protest against the male-dominated art scene of the 1970s, when land artists were almost entirely men.
Jann Haworth, a part of Gazelli Art House’s roster of artists, moved to London from Los Angeles in 1961 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, becoming an innovator of soft sculptures that led her to challenge the notion of female form serving as a muse or object of desire. Exhibited works include the Pom Pom Girl, 1964-65, China Cabinet, 1963-1964, and Linder Doll, 1965, among other pieces, underpinning Haworth’s critical contribution towards the development of women artists’ voices in the West. Haworth tells SC: “Each of these works pivots on my core themes, a specific idea or subject, using a form that best describes the subject as I see it, and the question of scale in relationship to the viewer. The subject or theidea of a piece is varied but I am attracted to looking at an ordinary subject in a new way, not just by changing it’s form or size, but how say a jump can be frozen or a 2D painting can be made 3D, or invisibility can be represented.”
Expanding on her use of materials, the artist explains: “My Mom taught me about design, in particular, the Bauhaus principles, very early, and how to sew … I grew up designing and making 90% of what I wore. I made my first sewn piece when I was 8 – a yellow cotton petticoat, and never stopped sewing after that. I made dolls with my own patterns, clothes for myself and others, giant Christmas stockings, frogs, snails, and other little figures. Sewing opened up the 2D language that created 3D objects. I knew from the age of 8 how to make an arm or a nose out of a flat piece of cloth. As a student I felt I was in competition with the male students. I was riding the bus when I suddenly realised that I knew a language that they didn’t and that I could make anything out of cloth. That is where the concept of fabric as 3D form and art started for me.”
Penny Slinger explores feminism and eroticism through work including photography, film and sculpture. Included in Oh, Marilyn! are a series of vintage black and white photographs from the artist’s subversive Bride Book, 1973, and works from her 1973 series Mouthpieces, which are collage and sculptural works. Offering insight into the powerful series, the artist says: “The Mouthpieces were part of a group of works that I presented at Angela Flowers Gallery, London in 1973. The idea was to create mouthpieces for the feminine, feeling that we had not had a voice for so long and that the feminine voice needed to be heard. I used the technique of surrealist collage to deliver a shock value with the elements I brought together with my mouth. I wanted to disrupt the status quo of how we view the mouth, especially considering the use of the female mouth in advertising for its allure. I wanted to upset this equation and bring in other factors to consider.”
Slinger continues: “With the titles of the pieces I also sought to create a double entendre, a way of stimulating a response that would not be expected. A kind of ‘come hither’ that delivered a slap in the face. Both the license provided by surrealism and the opportunities opened up by the use of collage allowed me to use pieces of ‘reality’ but present them in new and unsettling combinations. I felt that in this way I could probe the feminine psyche, not just present her surfaces, and unseat the comfortable stance of the male gaze. Through my Mouthpieces I wanted to speak of pain and paradox, attraction and repulsion, the interior as well as the exterior. I sought to depict a language of the feminine that had long been kept secret and private because of its power to disrupt. I sought to open her mouth, my mouth, and let out a whisper or a silent scream, coded in a visual representation, both deeply personal yet, hopefully, capable of triggering universal response.”
Oh, Marilyn! runs at Gazelli Art House, London from 21 January – 12 March 2022.
Feature image: Judy Chicago, Pink Atmosphere, Cal State Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, 1971/2018