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Rereading Womanhouse (1972): A Pioneer of Feminist Art and Site-specific Installation

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2018, 75(3), pp.173-220
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.75.3.201808.173
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : July 15, 2018
  • Accepted : August 17, 2018
  • Published : August 31, 2018

Kim Jina 1

1전남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article examines Womanhouse, which was a project open to the public for about four weeks starting from January 30, 1972 in Los Angeles, USA. It was both an installation and an exhibition created by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro with 21 college students affiliated with the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts. They borrowed a large abandoned house, repaired it by themselves and created site-specific works exploring women’s experiences, roles, and awareness in the home. Womanhouse received national attention when it was open, but because the house was demolished shortly after the exhibition, most works were destroyed. Since then, it has been referenced as a representative work of first-generation feminist art; however, due to the negative associations with this era of art as “essentialist,” researchers have not produced detailed scholarly studies of Womanhouse. Recently, critical discussion has been expanded through the writings of several scholars and artists, a related exhibition in 2009, and a website. Furthermore, Womanhouse is beginning to be reconsidered as a combination of first generation “essentialism” and second generation “constructionism.” This paper, in part, agrees with this view. On the one hand, rather than seeing the installation as just a bridge between “essentialism” and “constructivism” in feminist art, this paper carries out a detailed examination of individual works in the Womanhouse exhibit and investigates implications for and against female experiences and the construction of femininity. On the other hand, beyond feminism, this article re-reads Womanhouse through its historical significance and factors critical to society as well as contemporary art world. By examining its experimental attributes, this paper argues that the installation anticipated various characteristics found in contemporary art: 1) the collaborative nature of work; 2) blurring the line between men’s and women’s work in the contrast between house repair vs. sewing, decorating, embroidery, etc.; 3) site-specific installation in an abandoned house; 4) mixing various media and genres.

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