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>> Interview: Louise Bourgeois
>> Career Women and Material Girls
>> The Legend's Burden: Eva Hesse
>> Close Up: Katharina Sieverding

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Career Woman and Material Girl: Staged Femininity in the Works of Contemporary Women Artists


Rosemarie Trockel's stove paintings unite a housewife's idyll and Kasimir Malevich's Black Square; in the works of Katharina Sieverding, femininity becomes an abstract image: when female artists begin investigating images of women, they often take their own experiences in role-playing as their subject matter. In the process, feminist definitions and the much-cited solidarity among women become clichés every bit as dubious as their chauvinist fantasy counterparts. Harald Fricke on media ruptures, constructed genders, gaps, and self-portraits.


Louise Bourgeois, The Woven Child (cover and page 1), 2003
Fabric and color lithograph book, 6 pages
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
Photo: Christopher Burke

The "Art Compass" of the German magazine Capital has been an institution for decades. Whoever wants to know which artists are doing the best business can quickly find information here on the price range and latest art market trends. The upper echelon, however, offers few surprises: while Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys were the favorites throughout the seventies and eighties, Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and Georg Baselitz now head the list. Yet in the nineties, women artists also made it into this men's world: suddenly, Louise Bourgeois and Cindy Sherman were steadily climbing the list, Jenny Holzer was rapidly catching up, and the newcomer Pippilotti Rist also made it into the upper reaches. Yet none of these women are as successful as Rosemarie Trockel, who has been occupying fourth place on the list for several years. This makes the situation precarious, however: should her success be taken as a victory for feminism? Or is the "eternal" fourth place additional proof that women don't really have a shot at the top spots in the art establishment?
Rosemarie Trockel: Continental Divide", 1994
©Galerie Monika Sprüth, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst 2004
Rosemarie Trockel: Schizo- Pullover 1988 Wolle, 60 x 66 cm, Ed. 3
©Galerie Monika Sprüth, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst 2004





Rosemarie Trockel: from the poster series "Beauties"
for the project museum in progress, 1995

Whatever the case may be, Trockel's1994 video work Continental Divide provided a commentary on the question of who the best artist is. In it, Trockel appears with a double; both of them are stuffed into a "Schizo Sweater" out of which two identical heads protrude. Throughout the film, Trockel and her alter ego discuss the ranking and fight over which of the two has a right to the laurels. Eventually, the visitor can hardly tell what's going on anymore, partly because the game's contenders, dressed in costumes and wigs, are shot diagonally from above, half-submerged in shadow; after a while, it's no longer possible to make out which of the two is the real Trockel.

The confusion is deliberate, and the tribunal-like situation doesn't seek to clarify who in fact deserves the title. In her film, Trockel demonstrates how art and life separate when it comes to a career: Continental Divide is a meditation on how women are constantly pinned down by the gender-specific roles assigned to them in their artistic production. Men are expected to possess a healthy competitive instinct, yet it's solidarity we expect to find among women - a thing Trockel refuses here in an exemplary manner. In the process, she breaks with the notion that the success of women artists stands for social emancipation: Trockel's success is not merely representative of a feminist strategy, but a result of her artistic individuality. This ambiguity carries throughout many of her works, such as the Oven Burners (1992) mounted on the wall as a relief that, on the one hand, picks up on the traditional role of women in the kitchen, and on the other locates itself in the iconographic tradition of Kasimir Malevich's black squares. It's no accident that Trockel's early "knit" images took the handicraft of the knitting machine ordinarily reserved to women and translated it into large-scale art historical quotes.
Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled, 1986
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Courtesy Galerie Monika Sprüth, Köln;
VG Bild-Kunst 2004
Rosemarie Trockel, Der Maskenmann
©Courtesy Galerie Monika Sprüth, Köln;
VG Bild-Kunst 2004

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