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A Response to ‘26 Conceptual Artists in London’ 

Page view from From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard's Numbers Shows 1969–74 (Afterall Books, 2012) showing installation shots of 'c7,500' show in London, 1974

Caroline Tisdall dismissed the exhibition ‘c.7,500’ as a distressing disappointment of secondraters. She felt it would not convince people that women suffer injustice in the art world. She failed to mention the difficulties this show had in finding anyone to put it on or to finance it. It was hung, supervised and publicised by volunteers with minimal support from the Arts Council [of Great Britain]. She also underestimates the complexity of the injustice done to women, which was fully discussed in a series of evening workshops that were held in the gallery in the weeks the show was on.2 The exhibition was a focal point for examination of the history of women as artists, prejudice in the art world, discrimination in art education, etc. Few exhibitions generate this kind of interchange about all the aspects of the art world, which affect men and women alike. This contribution to the scene, which was an essential part of the idea of the exhibition, was ignored by Ms Tisdall.

The fact that an exhibition of women artists makes a critic react with the phrase ‘stinks of the ghetto’ is proof in itself of the need for such an exhibition. There is hostility to women identifying themselves as a group, exhibiting together for the purpose of giving their personal points of view as individual artists and for discovering if their work, seen collectively, has anything in common because the exhibitors are all women. All-male exhibitions are frequent and are seen as ‘art’; sex is irrelevant. All-female exhibitions are not treated in the same way, but are taken as a self-conscious statement about women’s art. This exposes the male norm of culture for what it is.

Finally, Ms Tisdall dismisses women’s experience as superficial. From her article one gets the impression that ‘real’ problems are what men show; women exploring questions of identity, which are peculiar to women because of the attitude in our society to women, makeup, dress, physical appearance and the sexual objectifying of women’s bodies, are ‘superficial’. The sex bias is so clear. As a woman looking at this exhibition, I found the witty and ironic treatment of experiences with which I could so easily identify one of its most rewarding aspects. It was by no means a series of gripes; the content of the exhibits were full of humour and insight. Ms Tisdall did a grave injustice to the show. She should examine her strong reactions against it and ask why women’s work should provoke such hostility in the context of the art world in which she practices as a critic. The answers might explain to her the importance of this show.

Editors’ Note: This letter, dated 27 April 1974, was printed in Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock (ed.), Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970–1985, London: Pandora, 1987, pp.198–99.2 EN: According to the press release, ‘nine workshop discussions centred around issues raised by [the] exhibition’ were held, addressing topics that included ‘Women and Revolution’ and ‘Sex Bias and Criticism’. For the full press release, see ibid., p.197.