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Featuring works from the 1970s to today, Don’t let this be easy is an institutional project taking the form of an exhibition, coupled with new scholarship and online publishing focused on women artists from the Walker’s collection. The initiative is presented in conjunction with the Feminist Art Coalition (FAC), a nationwide effort involving more than 100 museums committed to social justice and structural change.
This Walker-organized exhibition highlights the diverse and experimental practices of women artists spanning some 50 years through a selection of paintings, sculptures, moving image works, artist’s books, and materials from the archives. To this day, these artworks challenge traditional museum categories and collecting practices, calling attention to the limitations inherent in institutional divisions and policies. The show’s title encompasses the issues raised by these artworks: the strictures of commercial and institutional validation, the desire for artistic and intellectual freedom, and unique ways that female artists have critically responded to these frameworks.
Don’t let this be easy includes work by Ree Morton (1936–1977), whose kitsch aesthetics, literary references, and renaissance of the decorative arts defied the monumentalism of a predominantly male art world; Carolee Schneemann (1939–2019), a pioneer of feminist avant-garde performance known for her staged works that personified women’s sexual liberation; Alexis Smith (b. 1949), whose mixed-media assemblages embody the conflicts between the real and the idealized in US culture; and Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), who pivoted from abstraction in 1980 to more directly address sociopolitical issues around the intersection of race, class, and gender. These artists developed experimental presentations and self-published projects in response to (and in spite of) their exclusion from the art market and gallery representation. In doing so, they expanded definitions of art and the bounds of accepted aesthetics.
Many of the artists featured in the exhibition have been the subject of renewed attention from curators and scholars seeking to resurrect some of art history’s more marginalized events. Their works are shown alongside pieces by younger generations to highlight relationships of kinship, visual rapport, and response. Some of these artists include: Andrea Carlson (b. 1979), who uses painting and printmaking to depict the entanglement between cultural narratives and institutional authority; Christina Quarles (b. 1985), whose abstract paintings confront themes of racial and sexual identities, gender, and queerness; and Kaari Upson (b. 1972), who has dedicated the majority of her career to a quasi-fictional character she developed from discarded personal belongings found at an abandoned property. By presenting these works and examining behind-the-scenes what is required to address structural inequity, Don’t let this be easy explores the complex nature of the feminist enterprise.
Nisa Mackie, director and curator, Education and Public Programs; and Alexandra Nicome, former interpretation fellow, Education and Public Programs.