A good or great story in a horrible documentary.
!Women Art Revolution (2010): 5 out of 10. Well, we have seen this before. A good or great story in a horrible documentary. Let’s start with the horrible. The documentary looks like something I would have seen in my art history class in college. I went to college in the late eighties. How a documentary can look this awful in 2010 in a bloody mystery.
The Good: Women Art Revolution will introduce you to some artists you have never heard of that do great work. There is some visual punch and the movie finds its feet after it enters the eighties and younger, less Marxist, feminists take the stage. Not just are these younger artists more interested in talking about art than settling forty-year-old scores they also honestly produce much better work than their “pioneering” predecessors.
The movie also has a decent point underneath the chaos. The art world was a horrible closed shop. Since all art is subjective, it is much easier to erect barriers in the art world than it would be in results based endeavors.
The Bad: Either Lynn Hershman Leeson has a personal grudge against Judy Chicago or Judy Chicago is one of the worst people in the world. Either way, Leeson picks footage that makes Judy seem like a horrible dictator that will definitely ask for the manager because you are out of stock of the blue one. Strange way to frame a founder of the modern feminist art movement and the creator of one of its most famous pieces “The Dinner Party” which to Chicago’s credit is quite well done.
There are plenty of times during the Women Art Revolution where a topic is broached upon and one thinks to oneself that would make a superb documentary. There is the murder of the feminist artist Ana Mendieta possibly by her husband minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. The documentary comes tantalizingly close to saying something interesting and then we fly off to another topic. Also, the Guerrilla Girls are a effective and humorous feminist artist protest group and would also have made a good documentary. Alas, they are on the screen for too brief a time. Heck, even following Judy Chicago around as she argues about coupons with the Kohl’s cashier while spouting Maoist doctrine would have been great.
Instead, the film jumps around like a coked-up sugar glider worried if it stays on any topic or talking head for more than a minute we will lose interest. Plus, we need to fit all the feminist art history of the past forty years in the allotted eighty-three minutes. A mile wide and an inch deep is the result.
The Ugly: For a documentary that talks about the hours of footage it could not use because of time constraints, it is bizarre some things that are included. There is a lot of performance art in this film. A lot. It ranges from “wasn’t that a Monty Python sketch to wasn’t that a Yoko Ono piece. (Yoko is briefly included, but she isn’t highlighted because she was a famous female artist before 1970. Women Art Revolution includes almost no famous female artists before 1970 as if their mere presence will cause us to doubt the foundation of the film.) Anyway, a little performance art goes a very long way, and even the best pieces don’t translate well to film and don’t age well.
There is also a section in the film where Lynn Hershman-Leeson talks about how she lived her life ten years secretly as a woman. I mean she is already a woman, but this woman was named Roberta and had blonde hair. She talks about how “Roberta” would seek roommates who would be part of her “art piece” because they didn’t realize that Roberta was not a real person although she had a drivers license and well was standing in front of them calling herself Roberta. It doesn’t go anywhere, like well everything else in this film, but it is a surprisingly self-indulgent piece of narcissism to throw in the middle of a purported documentary about the feminist art movement.
In Conclusion: For all, I know the minimalist modern art being produced by male artists in the late sixties was horrible. Women Art Revolution doesn’t show any so I would have to guess. What I can say with more confidence is a lot of the pieces being made by female artists in the late sixties and early seventies was downright horrible. I mean embarrassed to have on your fridge horrible. It brings up the terrible feeling that at least in some cases these artists were kept out of museums and galleries for reasons other than gender.
Overall, the documentary gives snippets of history you might never have known and there are some nice pieces and stories if you dig through the flotsam and self-serving backstabbing that clouds much of the film. I also look forward to the follow-up documentary where an enterprising person compares cold case missing person files to “Roberta’s” movements. Just saying.