Gift from the artist to the present owner in 1970s.
Women Artists in Revolution (W.A.R.)
Nelson Rockefeller once jokingly told Franz Kline that the only reason he and other collectors bought artists work was to keep artists from becoming revolutionaries. Avant-Garde art movements were often protests against wars. The second half of the 1960s was still reeling from the Cuba Missile Crisis and the division of Europe, when the Vietnam War began to hit home. In 1970, the Art Workers Coalition A.W.C. protested in front of Picasso's Guernica at MoMA, with a poster of the My Lai Massacre of 347 civilians, asking: Q. And babies? A. And babies.
Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago give a profound, if misogynistic, glimpse of how it felt in the late 1960s. I went to New York in 1973 as Richard Hamilton's assistant for his Guggenheim show, just as Watergate was breaking. It was a nightmare. GI junkies stood shaking, asking for money, as we made our way to Max's Kansas City. I was shown how to fold a dollar bill so they could not tell if it was a $1 or $10. To refuse the advances of men in their forties or fifties - the editors of Artforum and Avalanche in my case - was to ruin your prospects in the Big Apple.
Women Artists in Revolution W.A.R. was an off shoot of the A.W.C.. They wrote '65% of New York art students are women but only 3% of the artists represented by New York Galleries are women.' A.I.R. Gallery was founded by ten women artists including Judith Bernstein and Martha Rosler in 1972, based on Lippard's 1970 Women's Slide Registry. Bridget Riley's St Katherine's Dock founded in 1968, was one of her inspirations. A number of other Artist-Led projects in New York started to show a fair share of women artists: The Kitchen, P.S.1., White Columns, Artists Space and The Alternative Museum. The Whitney Museum 2012 exhibition Sinister Pop curated by Donna De Salvo, Scott Rothkopf and Chrissie Isles has helped to bring this still controversial period, back into focus.
Martha Rosler's collages, Bring the War Back into our Homes includes the image of soldiers fighting their way into the kitchens and sitting rooms of middle America. In 2008 she sent 'The Martha Rosler Library' on a European tour, including Stills in Edinburgh. Over 7,500 volumes reminded us of the savage bite of political radicalism in the early 1970s.
Judith Bernstein is a treasure that has recently been rediscovered. The Brooklyn girl dared to draw and paint what needed saying, a cock is a gun, with sperm rattling out, like bullets from a machine gun. She was not afraid to show images of jacking off against the Union Flag in the Judson Church Flags exhibition of 1970: Hey. Hey. L.B.J. how many kids did you kill today?.
Eleanor Antin's 100 Boots are the image of the ghostly Armies of the Night. The trudge of soldiers must be part of the meaning of this work? Perhaps it is just too obvious for theoretical art historians to mention, but the work makes me think of Nancy Sinatra's These Boots are Made for Walking from 1966. The song became an anthem adopted by US soldiers in Vietnam according to Stanley Kubrick. It was written by Lee Hazlewood, who fought in Korea in the 1950s.
I regret I did not accept the invitations to Women's Groups in New York in 1973, but Feminism did not arrive in the UK until 1974, with the Women's Section of the Artists Union launched by Margaret Harrison and others. Through the 'Introduction' to Walter Benjamin's Illuminations, I read all three volumes of Hannah Arendt's PhD Thesis, The Origins of Totalitarianism explaining Alchemy, Empires and Fascism as the search for gold. She dwells on Joseph Conrad's image of the two old ladies in black, either side of the portals of the Royal Belgian Congo Company, silently sewing, as they watch the young men go to the Heart of Darkness. Jo Spence's Colonization 1981 touches this, with her poverty stricken East End doorstep, in the capital city of the Great British Empire. She presents herself as a native, naked breasts, ethnic beads, a sarong and a broomstick. Spence and Bernstein are fishwives who let it all hang out.
The Portuguese artist Helena Almeida is wicked in another way. She learnt from the Brazilian artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark to break all the rules and the conventions ofart. She challenged Yves Klein's use of naked women as paint brushes in his performances by pinching his colour blue and eating it. She denied the link but then had herself photographed 'Falling', like the maestro but balanced on a stool.
The UK's feminist moment came in 1981 with the Women's Peace Camp at the US Air Force Cruise Missile Base at Greenham Common, four miles from Aldermaston. The women camped there for a decade (and more) in all weathers. The Cruise Missiles were removed in 1991 and I have always associated Helen Chadwick's fairy tale, pretty Piss-Flowers of 1991 with the Greenham Women relieving themselves while camping in the snow. Chadwick's Piss-Flowers are for me a metaphor celebrating the Cold War, in more senses than one.
Marcel Broodthaers told me a parable about the division of Europe. In 1945 a fence was put down the middle of the field of tulips, and the Russians came into their half with their tractors and they cut down all the tulips in their half of the field. Then the Americans came into their half of the field and they gave a great big party with lots of drinking, rock and roll and hanky panky and the next morning their half was also completely flattened. After a pause Marcel added, 'come another season we do not know, on which side of the fence the tulip blubs are best preserved, to grow straight and true again?'
The Cruise Missiles at Greenham were aimed at the Russian half of the field of tulips. Marina Abramovich is from Serbia where both her parents were in the military. Her father was a war hero and her mother was in the army before becoming Director of the Museum of Revolution and Art. Abramovich moved to Amsterdam where she spent the best years of her youth with the West German performance artist, Ulay. It is worth seeing the YouTube reunion of the two artists at MoMA in 2010.
VALIE EXPORT made her performance work on the streets of Vienna, a city that still reminds one of The Third Man and the guilt of the parents, that my generation of artists grew up with. I remember going to see Mel Brook's film The Producers in New York with Konrad Fischer and Gerhard Richter. They were silent during SpringTime for Hitler and it felt very uncomfortable. Finally they began to laugh at the Nazi pigeon fancier on the rooftop. He reminded them of Gerry Schum. It must have been difficult to be German, Russian, East European or American in 1973. This was all a long time ago and it is not like that any more. Is it?
E. Antin, 100 Boots, Philadelphia, 1999 (illustrated, n.p.).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 100 BOOTS, 1973 (another example exhibited).
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, 100 BOOTS Once Again (Part 1), Choreographies (Part 2), 1977 (another example exhibited).
Franklin Furnace, 100 BOOTS: Transmission and Reception, 1979 (another example exhibited).
Los Angeles, Craig Krull Gallery, 100 Boots Revisited, 1995 (another example exhibited).
Milan, Marella Arte Contemporanea, Roman Allegories, 2005 & 100 Boots, 1971-73, April-May 2005 (another example exhibited).
Brussels, Erna Hecey Gallery, 100 Boots, April-May 2006 (another example exhibited).