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Art Of And By Women


"Earth Birth" is among works by Judy Chicago in a show that features her and eight other feminist artists at Central Connecticut State University's Art Galleries beginning Thursday. (JUDY CHICAGO / March 6, 2008)

Judy Chicago once said she was challenging the notion of what art was supposed to be about by looking at human experience from a female perspective.

Her most famous work, "The Dinner Party," on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum, suggested that art had left the history of women unexplored.

And "The Birth Project" explored a transcendent aspect of the human experience that serious art had all but ignored.

More than 25 years of Chicago's art is represented in a show at Central Connecticut State University's Art Galleries beginning Thursday.

Aside from more than 20 works by Chicago ("The Dinner Party" is not among them), "Female Forms and Facets: Artwork by Women from 1975 to the Present," includes pieces by some of the most famous names in the feminist art movement.

New Britain's Penny Arcade, who was a teenage superstar in Andy Warhol's Factory and began working on her own shows in the 1980s, opens the show Thursday with a live performance created for the exhibit.

Some of Arcade's more famous performances, which draw on her Italian American working-class background, will be screened throughout the exhibition.

The exhibit is the brainchild of curator Robert Diamond. He was exploring feminist themes in his own art and hit upon the idea of a retrospective featuring the legends of the feminist art movement.

He began making calls and found the artists receptive to the idea.

"The idea was to focus on the representation of women by women," Diamond says. "You would normally have to go to New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles to see the work of these artists, but this show brings them together right here."

The roster of talent is impressive.

Carolee Schneemann offers two works created more than 20 years apart. Both "Interior Scroll" from 1975 and "Vulva's Morphia" from 1995 challenge taboos and the antiseptic manner in which male artists (and the men who dominate Madison Avenue marketing campaigns) gaze at the female form.

Unlike Chicago, whose work seems most concerned with aspects of the female experience that have been too long ignored, Schneemann offers a fresh look at subjects that have dominated art for centuries.

She rejects the male version of an idyllic female form and offers a more natural interest in a real woman's body.

The notion that women for centuries have been under the scrutiny of the male stare is a major theme of this exhibition.

Lisa Yuskavage contributes a small painting done in the style of the Dutch genre painters, which might be easy to overlook amid the larger works in the show.

The difference is that the women in the Dutch paintings aren't topless. Yuskavage's painting is both sensual but also a reminder of how women have been sexualized in art for centuries.

Such scrutiny takes a sinister turn in the work of Sara Risk, who died in 1998, at the age of 33, after creating a series of works illustrating her struggle with her own body image and with eating disorders.

The honesty of Risk's self-examination is powerful and poignant and should inspire viewers to make connections with other works in the exhibit.

The space at Central is intimate enough that one should be able to return to a work for further examination.

One theme certain to emerge is the way these artists re-examine the world.

Candice Raquel Lee reinterprets mythological subjects through the eyes of a 21st-century woman.

"My treatment of myth invites viewers to reassess initial impressions grounded in a conventional male eye," she writes in her artist's statement.

She says that the male eye perceives female bodies as passive and sexual.

Judy Fox also delves into mythology with "Venus," which refers to both the Earth Goddess and the idealized notions of the female figure represented by the Venus of Willendorf statuettes.

Janine Antoni examines another area overlooked in the sweep of art history as she explores the connection between mothers and daughters.

But the dominating force in the show is Chicago, who offered a new form of female-centered erotica and shook the foundation of a world accustomed to staring at woman instead of attempting to understand them.

FEMALE FORMS AND FACETS: ARTWORK BY WOMEN FROM 1975 TO THE PRESENT opens Thursday and runs through April 18 at the Central Connecticut State University Art Galleries.There is an opening reception Thursday from 4:30 to 8 p.m. featuring a live performance by Penny Arcade, as well as a chance to meet some of the artists.

The gallery is in Maloney Hall at 1615 Stanley St. on the CCSU campus. Admission is free. Hours are Monday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.

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