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Guggenheim, Peggy)

Art of This Century: The Women. (leaflet)


Guggenheim, Peggy. The Women. Art of this Century. June 12-July 7, 1945.
4to.; printed leaflet; light blue exterior printed in black; faint dampstain to upper panel; few creases. In a specially made cloth slipcase.
Roster of artists represented by paintings or sculptures in Guggenheim's compelling exhibition of 30 women surrealist and abstractionist artists. One reviewer defined this gathering, who exhibited at her Art of This Century gallery from June 12 - July 7, 1945, as the "female contribution to the modern art movement." The show, organized by Guggenheim, spotlighted young, relatively unknown artists: Lee Krasner (who was listed on the roster by her birth name, Lenore Krassner), Louise Bourgeois, and Gypsy Rose Lee were among them, as was Guggenheim's teenage daughter, Pegeen.
Most of the women were the "better half" of an artistically impressive list of husbands: Lee Krasner was, famously, Jackson Pollock's wife; Louise Bourgeois was married to Robert Goldwater; Xenia Cage was married to John Cage; Jacqueline Lamba was married to André Breton and Kay Sage was married to Yves Tanguy (who also happened to be one of  Guggenheim's lovers). Many of these artists had exhibited in Guggenheim's groundbreaking 1943 exhibition, "Exhibition by 31 Women." The critical acclaim and attention Guggenheim and her gallery received from the first exhibition spurred her to have this second "women's" show, although it seems neither efforts yielded significant sales.
Primarily abstract works, they bear striking aesthetic resemblances to those of their better-known male contemporaries like Klee, Mondrian, Matisse, Dali and Braque. According to a review in ArtNews:
The women who Peggy Guggenheim has picked for her string have definitely something on the ball. The most surprising trait here is an almost masculine vigor of ideas … the works as a whole balances satisfactorily in the Art of This Century Galleries promoting new conception of the weaker sex. Other all-female organizations should have a look-in at a show which is so refreshingly un-ladylike.
 Another review, by Edward Alden Jewell - the chief art critic from the Times - echoed this sentiment: "There is nothing save the catalogue to indicate that these artists are women. The work might just as well have been produced by 'The Men.'"
Both of these statements touch upon one of the most infamous art historical debates - one which has become especially heated since the 1940s with the advent of the New York school of Abstract Expressionists and the establishment of New York as the "art capital of the world." That is, "Must a woman paint like a man in order to be a good artist?" In her catalogue from the 1997 re-creation of the exhibition, Siobhan Conaty expounds upon the gender-related reviews this show received:
In one sense, such statements are meant to be accolades for the women, but on another level it promotes the idea that this 'weaker sex' must toughen up, add some vigor or masculinity to their works lest they be called 'ladylike,' apparently a negative attribute. Instead of focusing on the art itself, the reviewers have now expanded the criticism to include the issue whether the artists paint like men or women.
In spite of the critics' response, the majority of the women included in the show were not trying to make a gender biased statement; they were, simply, delighted to be exhibiting at a prestigious gallery like Art of This Century and gaining exposure for their work. While women had been included in group shows before, there had never been a show dedicated solely to female artists. Conaty describes the cause and effect this show had on the art world: "By separating the women into their own category and sexualizing the term 'artist' Peggy and her advisors opened up a Pandora's box of scrutiny and value judgments based on criteria other than the art itself."

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