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26 Conceptual Artists in London

Page view from From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard's Numbers Shows 1969–74 (Afterall Books, 2012)

An exhibition of conceptual art by women artists organised by the American critic Lucy Lippard is a distressing disappointment. For one thing it stinks of the ghetto. Maybe Lucy Lippard wanted to demonstrate that this ghetto exists in the art world – a ghetto that discriminates against women as artists and relegates them at the most to the housekeeping jobs as critics and curators, or to the role of patient artists’ wives. That’s no news, even here, where the whole issue is treated with more apathy and less heat than in New York. But nobody is going to be convinced that an injustice is being done if the works displayed to counter it are second rate.

And that’s what most of the exhibits in the show are: just plain second rate. The ghetto sense comes partly from the feeling that many of the artists were included just because they were women, and not on the quality of their work. Quality and the need to express something should surely be the criteria for a woman artist, just as for any artist. But take a look at what is being expressed in a large chunk of the exhibits and you get another whiff of the second rate. There are too many gripes, too many problems that seem to equate superficial and real problems. Changes of cosmetics and clothes, switches of identity, how the outside world judges the woman by such things, to what extent her personality is itself affected by such factors, all these are certainly problems and have been tackled in various media. But here they are presented as stupidly as I have ever seen them. The overall impression, which is certainly unrepresentative in some cases, is of a long, tedious gripe related to a downtown shrink.

Editors’ Note: This text was originally published in The Guardian, 27 April 1974, p.10.