The A.I.R. Gallery 10th Biennial: "36 Cats and one stripe pussy"
Curated by Ingrid Schaffner
December 6 - January 5, 2013
An Essay By Curator Ingrid Schaffner
Is there something inherently Feminist about the juried exhibition? As a juror/curator you start with a vast number of different kinds of work submitted through an open call that is further democratized by having no names or other signifying clues as to an artist’s identity, origin, or affiliation. Destabilizing and potentially productive, this process allows the curator to operate free of dominant paradigms and values. Of course, the fact that all of the artists in the A.I.R. Biennial are women is far less compelling than the imaginative power and politics of inclusion and disruption that continue to make Feminism such a formidable cultural force. (Incidentally, the Biennial is open to submissions from all artists who identify themselves as women.)
At some point in the process of looking at the work of the 652 artists, who submitted up to 6 images each, I wondered if there was a way to turn the exhibition itself into a Feminist statement? Could it be all-inclusive freeing me from making any selection at all? Alternatively, I thought, what about showing only tiny things (there was a remarkable number of small-scale submissions), which I imagined looking great on a giant table? Or maybe just cats. Okay, I’ve long been a fan of Carolee Schneemann’s intense videos of her kissing cats. And one of the thirty-six artists I selected painted a fantastic female/feline double portrait that sparked the title for this Biennial. 36 Cats and one stripe pussy refers to a book that Andy Warhol illustrated with his mother, who was not a native English speaker, titled, 25 Cats Name Sam and one Blue Pussy. But of course, the title comes charged with other potent echoes of, for instance, Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk-rock band, whose members were arrested and incarcerated for a guerrilla action directed against the Putin regime and Russian Orthodox Church last February. (And since installing the show, I’ve found at least one other stray pussy depicted.) But what is it with women artists and cats? No answers please.
To serve the interests of all involved—including the many participating artists whose work is not included—the selection must cohere and stand on its own integrity as an exhibition, one that neither reduces nor trivializes ac nearly overwhelming process itself to, say, just cats. Which brings us back to the diversity and complexity of all that the Feminist movement has brought to the fore of contemporary art since the 1970s—video, installation, performance, craft, identity, non-Western traditions, outsider and folk art, great beauty and terrific ugliness—I trust this iteration of the A.I.R. Biennial shows how much there was to work with, and to represent.
-Ingrid Schaffner, Senior Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania