The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991

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© Courtesy of the artist & Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991

5216 Montrose Boulevard
Houston, TX 77006
January 21st, 2012 - April 15th, 2012
Opening: January 20th, 2012 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

United States
Tuesday 10AM-7PM, Wednesday 10AM-7PM, Thursday 10AM-9PM, Friday 10AM-7PM, Saturday 10AM-6PM, Sunday 12PM-6PM
prints, Fotofest photography, installation, video-art


The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is pleased to present The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991, a survey of leading women artists that examines the crucial feminist contribution to the development of deconstructivism in the 1970s and ’80s. As the term suggests, deconstructivism involved taking apart and examining source material, generally borrowed from the mass media, to expose the ways commercial images reveal the mechanisms of power. Women had a particularly high stake in this kind of examination and were disproportionately represented among artists who practiced it. This exhibition is organized by Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. 

The exhibition includes 68 photographs, prints, paintings, videos, and installations by 22 artists and one artists’ collaborative. The artists include: Judith Barry, Dara Birnbaum, Barbara Bloom, Sarah Charlesworth, the Guerrilla Girls, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Susan Hiller, Jenny Holzer, Deborah Kass, Mary Kelly, Silvia Kolbowski, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Sturtevant, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hannah Wilke.

The mid-1970s saw the emergence of a potent artistic impulse to deconstruct the operations of cultural power, an impulse that is often understood, erroneously, to have been gender blind. The prevailing belief has been that following the identity-based, essentialist work of the late 1960s and early 1970s, progressive women artists put aside their differences with men to help them reveal how the mass media and global capitalism control visual culture. Their work was understood to suggest that authenticity and individuality were obsolete fictions, unsustainable in a media-saturated culture in which advertising, television, and the movies shape visual expression far more powerfully than individual agency. Sexual politics were seen to have submitted to a gender-free critique.

Hindsight helps reveal that this scenario is deeply flawed. Not only was the deconstructive impulse propelled in significant measure by women, but it reflected specifically female and highly individualized experiences of power—and constraint. The blatant misogyny of the movie and advertising industries, and the sexism of other cultural institutions and social structures, were significant motivators for launching attacks against them through such strategies as appropriation, simulation, masquerade, and pastiche. A chorus of varied voices—of decidedly plural feminisms—rose up, from a wide variety of racial, economic, and cultural communities. In fact the deconstructive impulse helped reveal that gender identity and its representation were more complicated than generally had been recognized.

The exhibition is co-curated by Helaine Posner, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York and Nancy Princenthal, art critic and former Senior Editor at Art in America. The exhibition was presented at the Neuberger Museum of Art from January 14 - April 3rd, 2011 and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from September 15 through December 31, 2011.



The Deconstructive Impulseis accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 176-page, hardcover book that surveys the work of the artists included, and places them in cultural and historical context. Essays by the exhibition’s curators, Helaine Posner and Nancy Princenthal, are followed by texts by art historians Tom McDonough, Griselda Pollock, and Kristine Stiles discussing such topics asthe importance of critical theory and sexual politics in the art world of the 1980s; how domesticity is represented in commercial media and the art that addresses it; the importance of psychoanalytic theory as a critical framework; and the sexualization of inanimate objects. The catalogue is co-published by the Neuberger Museum of Art and DelMonico Books•Prestel.